Fitness Coach

Is gum an effective performance enhancer?     Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Q:

Will Chewing Gum Improve My Performance?

I watched Jen Kessy smack gum throughout her Olympic beach volleyball matches. Can gum help performance, or does Kessy just have really bad breath?

A:Jen Kessy is certainly fond of gum. According to NBC, she took an early timeout in her second game against Brazil—not because she and her partner, April Ross, were two points down and needed to regroup, but because Kessey forgot her gum. Once she started masticating, she started winning, finishing the game 21 to 19.

But was the turnaround in Kessy’s performance a gum-related placebo effect, or did the gum actually help? The answer: It actually helps.

Various studies have shown that chewing gum can lower stress, improve alertness and mood, and increase reaction time. Throwing caffeine into the mix by chewing on “energy gum,” like Gorilla Gum or Jolt, directly before competing has been shown to additionally enhance performance.

How can one stick of gum achieve all of that? It’s thought that chewing gum increases cerebral blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and deciding on actions.

Chewing gum, Wrigley’s likes to point out, is particularly useful in sports requiring high levels of concentration and lower levels of physical exertion, like golf. In other sports, like swimming, chewing gum can be more of a choking hazard than a psychogenic aid.

Interesting note: One study found that the more importance athletes put on a particular event, the more likely they were to chew gum, and that women relied on gum more than men to help deal with stress related to competition.

As for whether or not Kessy has really bad breath, we’re guessing that considering the amount of gum she so famously chews, the answer is no.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Chew the gum.

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