Which form of caffeine will kick in the fastest?

Yes, different forms of caffeine can have different effects on your body! Let’s explore how and why this happens. 

Caffeine and Your Body

First, it is important to understand how caffeine interacts with your biological systems. Although many different mechanisms have been proposed in literature, the one with most evidence seems to arise from caffeine’s structural similarity to adenosine [1]. 

Adenosine is a naturally occurring neuromodulator found in the body that is related to feelings of relaxation and tiredness. Additionally, adenosine inhibits the release of noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel more alert and awake [1].

Caffeine actually works to block adenosine receptors, thereby preventing adenosine from binding. Thus, caffeine prevents the feeling of tiredness or fatigue. Furthermore, caffeine allows noradrenaline to be released, thereby promoting the feelings of being alert and awake. These reactions all occur in your central nervous system (CNS), the portion of your nervous system that deals specifically with your brain and spinal cord [1]. 

Which form is fastest?

You probably have noticed that stores sell various types of caffeine, from your typical cup of coffee, to energy drinks, to bars, to pills, and even gum. No matter what source you get your caffeine from, it takes around an hour for it to get absorbed, enter your bloodstream, and then influence your CNS [1]. 

Studies have shown that caffeine sourced from gum actually shows faster absorption than other forms. Why? Chewing caffeinated gum allows the caffeine to be absorbed in the buccal tissue within the mouth and then quickly passes through the blood-brain barrier to influence the CNS [1]. Additionally, it is important to note that because much of the caffeine absorption occurs in the mouth, less caffeine gets absorbed in the gut. This can be beneficial for individuals who have more sensitive GI systems [4]. 

The Evidence

A 2002 randomized control study demonstrated this phenomenon by separating their participants into various groups that received: 1) caffeinated-gum 2) caffeinated-capsule 3) placebo. Blood samples were taken from these participants at various times throughout the study [2]. 

The researchers found that the treatment group that received caffeinated-gum showed the highest levels of caffeine in their blood samples between 44.2 – 80.4 minutes after receiving their dose. This peak occurred significantly faster than the group that received caffeinated-capsules, who peaked at 84.0 – 120.0 minutes after receiving their dose [2]. 

Thus, the study concluded that caffeine was more quickly absorbed into the body from caffeinated-gum than caffeinated-capsules [2]. 

Read the whole study here.

So, what does this mean if you’re an athlete? 

Well, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) states that caffeine supplementation has the ability to enhance athletic performance related to endurance and strength exercises [3]. (Read more here!)

Even then, it is important to note that different sources, varying dosages, timing of supplementation, and your genetics (check out our previous post here!) all play a crucial role in determining exactly how caffeine will influence your performance [3]. 

So, at the end of the day, be sure to practice your race nutrition plan before your race day, and seek proper nutrition and medical help from the experts.

Want to know how caffeine will best support your performance? 

Work one-on-one with our experienced practitioners today! Click here to get started.


References:

  1. McLellan, T. M., Caldwell, J. A., & Lieberman, H. R. (2016). A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews71, 294–312. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.09.001
  2. Kamimori, G. H., Karyekar, C. S., Otterstetter, R., Cox, D. S., Balkin, T. J., Belenky, G. L., & Eddington, N. D. (2002). The rate of absorption and relative bioavailability of caffeine administered in chewing gum versus capsules to normal healthy volunteers. International journal of pharmaceutics234(1-2), 159–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0378-5173(01)00958-9
  3. Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N., Arent, S. M., Antonio, J., Stout, J. R., Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Goldstein, E. R., Kalman, D. S., & Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition18(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4
  4. Wickham, K. A., & Spriet, L. L. (2018). Administration of Caffeine in Alternate Forms. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)48(Suppl 1), 79–91. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0848-2
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