I Tried Powering My Runs With Caffeinated Gum—Check Out My Results

One of the first things you learn when you start running long distances is how important it is to fuel your body while you’re running. Sure, you need to eat a healthy diet the rest of the time, but if you’re running for an hour or more, you’re probably going to need to gas up your engine while you’re on the go—and that’s not exactly easy.

In my three years of racing everything from 5Ks to marathons, I’ve seen runners down some pretty crazy foods, drinks, and other products, like Gatorade (of course), energy gels, Clif Bloks, Power Bars, bananas, salt tablets, and more. At the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon, aid stations handed out apple slices. At the Boston Marathon, runners grabbed orange slices and gummy bears out of kids’ grubby hands. During the half marathon portion of a half Ironman triathlon, one station even offered Red Bull and soda to runners! (The easy-to-digest simple sugars can really give you an extra boost—especially towards the end of a race—but wow).

The thing is, in order to find out what really works for you and avoid any gnarly stomach issues on race day, you have to test your race fuel during training. The only thing I eat on a run—and only during runs over 10 miles—is a sugar bomb of an energy chew, which I can down in about two bites. Still, I’m game to try anything, so when I heard The Vitamin Shoppe launched Run Gum—not just any gum, but gum that contains energy-boosting vitamins B6 and B12, caffeine, and taurine (an amino acid and antioxidant that can stimulate the muscles) to power workouts and busy days—I was all for seeing if it could give my runs an extra boost.

Here’s how it works: Every packet contains two pieces of gum—and each piece packs about 50 milligrams of caffeine. You can pop one piece for ‘moderate’ energy, or chomp on both for a bigger kick. Run Gum comes in three flavors: fruit, cinnamon, and mint. (I preferred the mint, but like most gum, after about five minutes they all taste basically the same.)

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Since I was in between races, it was the perfect time to experiment with a new type of fuel. For my first trial, I took one fruit-flavored piece right before heading out to run three miles. It was 80 degrees and super-humid—not my favorite running weather—but I didn’t notice anything majorly different about my energy levels, and my pace seemed pretty on par with my usual.

The next day, I chewed one piece of the cinnamon-flavored gum at the start of another three-mile run, and popped a second piece in at the halfway point. I had started out feeling pretty tired (it was a Sunday night and I may have closed down the bar with my friends the night before), but I did feel like I picked up the pace towards the end!

Two days later, I popped one piece of mint Run Gum halfway through my third three-mile run—and that run actually felt the easiest of the three. It was still hot out, but rain had washed away some of the humidity and I’d caught up on my sleep, so I felt like I was back to my normal self.

In the moment, it was hard to judge just how much the Run Gum affected my run performance, especially since the circumstances of my runs were all a little different. (Thanks a lot, rain, heat, and hangovers…) So I turned to my data—and it was a little surprising. According to my Nike Running Club app, my fastest average pace was actually during my first run, when I chewed one piece of gum at the outset and didn’t really notice any energy boost. During my second run, when I chewed two pieces, my speed actually dropped in the last mile—even though I thought I picked up the pace. Maybe all that chewing threw off my perception of my speed… However, it was during my third run, when I started chewing on Run Gum halfway through, that I hit my fastest mile. Score!

Related: 11 Caffeine-Free Ways To Power Your Workouts

With those stats in mind, I thought maybe my first run turned out to be the fastest because I wasn’t really chewing that long while I was running. (I popped the gum into my mouth before I started, chewed for the first half mile or so to get the juice out of it and tossed it.) You see, I find it hard to chew and run at the same time (I can’t drink water and run at the same time either, and usually walk through water stations when I need a drink during races). Using my mouth for something other than breathing was distracting, and I figured that not being able to breathe at full capacity slowed down my pace when I chewed.

That said, that first run was my fastest, so clearly something about using Run Gum to kick off my run worked in my favor, whether it was the caffeine, the vitamins, the taurine, or a combo of the three. Though Run Gum may not replace my go-to fuel for longer-distance races, like half and full marathons (I think I’ll still need the sugar), I’ll definitely try chewing on some Run Gum before training runs and races to jump-start my system.

Not to mention, Run Gum’s energy boost could also prove very handy when that three o’clock slump hits me at work. If I’m going to chew gum anyway, why not chew gum that has perks.

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8 Foods That Can Boost Your Mood

If you’ve ever felt the need to eat your feelings, there’s actually a much better approach: Eat to beat those feelings. The nutrients (or lack thereof) we put in our bodies can have a major effect on our emotions, and the foods we choose when we’re feeling stressed, anxious, or downright depressed can either help pick us up or keep dragging us down.

Next time you’re in a rut, trade the Ben & Jerry’s for one of these eight proven mood-boosters.

1. Dark Chocolate

The oft-touted benefits of dark chocolate as the ultimate pick-me-up are legit. Dark chocolate is full of polyphenols, “micronutrients with antioxidant and immune-boosting properties that may help manage anxiety and promote overall calmness,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N, author of The Small Change Diet. Research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology backs this up, suggesting that polyphenols can actually decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety—a feat  Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, credits to their contributions to your gut and immune health. “Research shows that gut health is closely linked to mental health and cognitive function,” he says. “In fact, the beneficial bacteria in your gut play a key role in the metabolism of several amino acids and neurotransmitters involved in mood, like tryptophan and serotonin.” (The amino acid tryptophan helps synthesize the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is often called the ‘feel good hormone.’) So not only does eating polyphenol-rich foods like dark chocolate support gut health, but it influences your overall sense of well-being, too.

2. Wild Salmon

Fatty fish like wild salmon, trout, and sardines are full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which one scientific review suggests may help protect us from mood and anxiety issues. Like polyphenols, omega-3s in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties—and while more research is needed, inflammation seems to be a component of conditions like depression and mood disorders, says Axe. In fact, low levels of omega-3s have been linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Related: All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Can Do For Your Health

3. Avocado

Basic as it may be, avocado toast can truly brighten your day. “Avocado is a good source of folate, which may help to lower levels of homocysteine in our bodies,” explains Gans. (Too-high levels of this amino acid—common in meat- and animal protein-laden diets—can affect our mood by interfering with our production of serotonin.) Folate helps convert homocysteine into the amino acid methionine, which can then be used to create several of the neurotransmitters involved in brain function and mood regulation, including dopamine and serotonin, says Axe. “Studies also suggest that a deficiency in folate may be associated with a higher risk of depression and other mood disorders,” he adds.

4. Wholesome Carbs

We like to demonize carbs, but one study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people on low-carb diets reported more depression, anger, and anxiety throughout the course of a year than those on higher-carb diets. “Carbohydrates help to boost levels of tryptophan, the key ingredient for making serotonin,” says Gans.

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Not just any carbs will do, though: “While whole grains have been associated with a variety of health benefits, refined carbs may actually trigger inflammation, which can contribute to mood disturbances,” says Axe. You see, refined carbs lack fiber and trigger your body’s production of insulin, which has been linked to inflammation. Whole grains, though, contain fiber to save you from that insulin spike and provide a wealth of other micronutrients. If you’re craving sweet carby goodness, try a bowl of homemade oatmeal made with milk and topped with peanut butter, banana, and chia seeds. For something savory, try quinoa or buckwheat tossed with diced red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice.

5. Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms, known as ‘the mushroom of immortality,’ have been used in holistic medicine for over 4,000 years. Often touted as a superfood, these ‘shrooms have adaptogenic properties, “which means that they help combat the negative effects of stress, such as decreased energy,” says Axe. “Although clinical studies about the effects of reishi mushrooms on mood are limited, one animal study did show it to exhibit mood-boosting effects.” You won’t find these mushrooms in the produce aisle of your grocery store, but you can enjoy their benefits by sipping on a reishi tea, like Four Sigmatic’s Reishi Mushroom Elixir.

6. Swiss Chard

This leafy green is packed with magnesium—a nutrient that’s essential for increasing your energy levels and well-known for its mood-boosting abilities, but one that most Americans are deficient in. “Magnesium helps relax the muscles and support brain function. Plus, it plays a vital role in nerve transmission, insulin metabolism, and blood pressure regulation,” says Axe. One study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry identified an association between higher magnesium intake and lower depression scores—while other research has linked low magnesium intake with up to a 22-percent higher risk of developing depression. Other quality sources of the mineral include spinach, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and almonds.

7. Greek Yogurt

Calcium plays a major role in in releasing feel-good neurotransmitters from your brain, and it can have far-reaching effects on mood and brain function. “In fact, some of the hallmark signs of a severe calcium deficiency include depression, mood swings, anxiety, and irritability,” says Axe, who recommends regularly eating plenty of foods high in calcium, like Greek yogurt, sardines with bones, kale, and almonds. Craving something calcium-filled and comforting? Axe recommends blending Greek yogurt into a delicious berry smoothie or a smoothie bowl topped with healthy ingredients like berries, nuts, and seeds, or whipping up his dark chocolate almond butter cookies or crunchy seasoned kale chips.


8. Asparagus

These green stalks are a great plant-based source of the amino acid tryptophan (which you now know helps produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps stabilize mood and regulate sleeping patterns). “Studies show that following a diet low in tryptophan can decrease levels of serotonin, which may play a part in the development of depression and anxiety,” says Axe. Not only does asparagus provide this amino acid, but it’s also high in folate, the same mood-supporting B vitamin found in avocado.

Use this infographic to choose your mood-busting grub the next time you’re in a rut: 

 

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How Much Do Genetics Factor Into The Speed Of Your Metabolism?

When it comes to weight loss (and gain), many of us believe our metabolism yields ultimate power over our success—and that there’s not much we can do to change it. After all, we all have that one friend who attributes his perpetually skinny frame to a ‘fast metabolism,’ just as we have that friend who blames her widening waistline on the sluggish metabolism she inherited from her mother. But are we really born with inner engines that run at different speeds—and does ours really determine our weight fate?

Metabolism refers to your body’s process of converting calories into energy,” explains exercise and obesity researcher Tim Church, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, professor of preventive medicine at Louisiana State University and chief medical officer of ACAP Health Consulting. How fast or slow you convert those calories into energy, though, depends on a few factors—some of which you are born with.

First off, there’s how tall and naturally muscular you are. People with larger frames—who also tend to weigh more—actually have faster metabolisms than their smaller-framed friends. “The more you weigh, the more tissues you have, and the more tissues you have, the more calories you burn,” says Church. Then there’s whether you’re male or female. Men, who typically store less body fat, have more muscle mass, and are all-around larger than women, also typically have faster metabolisms because their muscle and size requires more calories to maintain than women’s generally smaller, less muscular frames.

Those metabolism factors are pretty much out of your control—but they’re not the only factors that determine the ultimate speed of your metabolism. The baseline number of calories your body needs to fuel essential functions, like breathing and circulating blood, is also determined by other factors, like your age (okay, also your of your control), your hormonal function, and your body composition (how much muscle versus fat you have). This metabolic baseline is called your BMR, or basal metabolic rate.

While your BMR is roughly how many calories you’d burn if you literally slept all day and didn’t move or eat anything, it only accounts for about 60 percent of your TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, which is the total number of calories you burn per day and includes the energy you use to move around, exercise, and digest food.

In a nutshell, the more you move your body, the more energy it uses, and the higher your TDEE—meaning you have a ‘faster’ metabolism on days you exercise than on days you binge on Netflix.

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Though it’s easier to boost your TDEE by moving more every day, it is also possible to boost your BMR over time, too. Remember when we said that the amount of muscle mass you have factors into your BMR? While you might be born with a more or less naturally muscular body than someone else, you can build more muscle mass and increase the baseline number of calories your body churns through every single day with strength training and proper nutrition (we’re looking at you, protein!). Research suggests muscle mass determines up to 60 percent of the variability in different people’s metabolisms, so putting in the work to build more is certainly worth your while.

Related: How Many Times A Week Should You Strength Train?

By the time you’re an adult, lifestyle behaviors like being active and building muscle outweigh the aspects of your metabolism you’re born with. In a perfect world, weight loss comes down to a simple equation, says Church: Use more energy than you take in. However, if you’re faithful to your healthy routine, move your body regularly, and nourish it with the appropriate calories, but still aren’t seeing any changes in your waistline, give your doctor a call. Underlying health issues, like a thyroid disorder or diabetes, could be throwing your hormones out of whack and sabotaging your metabolism.

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What’s The Difference Between Flexibility and Mobility?

If you work out, you know that cardio and resistance training both offer valuable benefits—including boosting your heart health, strength, and metabolism. But there are two other cornerstones of physical fitness we often overlook: flexibility and mobility. And before you ask: No, they’re not the same thing,

“Flexibility is the length or elastic property of your soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons), which gives your body the potential ability to move through a range of motions,” explains Michael Camperlengo, M.S.P.T., M.D.T., a physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy. Try to touch your toes. If the length and elasticity of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons allows, you’ll be able to reach all the way down. But if those soft tissues are shorter, you might only be able to reach to your shins, or even your knees.

Why is that important? “When our joints are restricted by inflexibility and can’t move through their natural range of motion, dysfunction and pain can occur,” says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, C.S.C.S. “Our daily life activities become more difficult and quality of life is diminished.”

Related: I Stretched For 30 Days With The Goal Of Touching My Toes—See How It Went

Mobility, on the other hand, is how your body moves through its available range, says Camperlengo. “It’s the degree to which the bones and tissues (like fibrous connective tissue and cartilage) that meet to form a joint (like your femur and pelvis for your hip joint, or the arm bones at your elbow joint) are free to move before being restricted.” If you’re lacking mobility in, say, your shoulders, you may not be able to fully rotate your arms or extend them straight up over your head.

“Mobility is essential to our overall quality of life, especially as we age,” says Holland. “The ability to move unrestricted and pain-free allows us to comfortably perform not just our daily activities but leisure activities and sports.” If your body isn’t moving through certain functional patterns correctly, you set yourself up for injury and musculoskeletal issues.

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Flexibility and mobility are very closely related. “The biggest difference is that flexibility gives a person a greater range of potential mobility; however mobility requires motion in the joint itself,” says Camperlengo. “Plus, a person must have the necessary strength and control to utilize the body’s range of motion to full potential.”

You can be flexible yet not have complete overall mobility, and you can be mobile without being particularly flexible in a certain area—but for peak health and performance, you need both.

Flexibility is something many of us struggle with, especially as we get older. “The most important areas to keep flexible are the lower extremities: The hamstrings and quadriceps have a significant impact on both your pelvis (hip joint) and knee, and the calves influence your lower back as well as your knee and ankle joints,” says Camperlengo.

“The pectoral or chest area is also a key area to pay attention to,” he adds. “Life today has us in many sedentary postures, where we’re slouching and looking down (like when using electronic devices), and keeping the pectoralis muscles flexible has significant impact on both neck and shoulder pain, as well as the maintenance of proper posture.”

Flexibility Stretches

Luckily, it’s super-easy to work on improving all-over flexibility. Stretching before and after workouts and incorporating yoga into your routine can help. You can also run through these five stretches several times a day:

1. Supine Two-Knee Twist: Lie on your back and press your lower back into the floor. Raise your feet off the floor, bring both knees toward your chest, and extend your arms straight out to the sides with palms facing down. Keeping feet and knees stacked, slowly lower both legs to the left. Keep your shoulders on the floor and turn your head to the right. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

2. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: Start in a half-kneeling position with your right foot planted on the ground in front of you and a 90-degree angle in your right knee, and your left knee on the ground directly under your left hip. Keeping your back straight, pull your shoulders down and back, squeeze your belly button towards your spine, and lean forward into the right hip while keeping the left knee pressed into the ground. Hold the stretch for at last 30 seconds for two to three reps. Then repeat on the other side.

3. Kneeling Hamstring Stretch: Again, start in a half-kneeling position with your right foot planted out in front of you and your right knee on the ground below your left hip. Shift your weight back into the left knee, sitting toward your heel, and keep your back flat as you bend at the hips and straighten your right leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

4. Corner Pectoral Stretch: Stand facing the corner of a room. Place your palms and forearms on the walls at 90-degree angles, with your elbows slightly lower than your shoulders. Stagger feet to decrease the stress on the lumbar spine, then press chest in towards the corner of the wall until you feel the stretch across the chest area. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

5. Calf Stretch: Stand arm-length away from a wall with your hands flat against the wall. Without bending your knee, extend your left leg back and place your heel flat on the floor. Lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the calf of your left leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Perform two or three reps on each side.

Mobility Moves

Unsurprisingly, the joints you want to keep mobile are closely related to the muscles you want to keep flexible. “The main areas to keep mobile are the hips, low back, upper back, and shoulders,” says Camperlengo. Incorporate these five moves to your warm-ups before working out or just do them throughout your day to keep all of your joints in working order.

1. Cat Stretch: Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Press the floor away with your hands and knees, drop your head, and round your spine. Hold for 15 seconds.

2. Carioca: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart and a slight bend in your knees. Push off with your left foot and step it behind your right foot. Then step your right foot to the side so you’re back to your starting stance. Now, step your left foot in front of your right foot. Step your right foot out to the side to get back into starting stance. Continue grape-vining to your right for 15 to 30 seconds, then reverse directions.

3. Child’s Pose: Start in a kneeling position with your knees wide. Crawl your hands forward so your arms extend straight in front of you (palms on the floor) and your torso lowers down toward your thighs and your forehead rests on the floor. Extend your hips back towards your heels and lengthen your spine. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

4. Hip Hinge: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands placed on the crease of your hip flexors. Keeping your chest up and shoulders pulled down and away from the ears, squeeze your belly button towards your spine and push your hips back. Allow your chest to drop forward until parallel with the floor. (This is not a squat; knees should be soft but not bent.)