Editor's Spotlight: Startup Focus

Sports chew startup: 'Caffeine for most endurance athletes is rocket fuel, essentially'

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Sports chew startup: 'Caffeine for most endurance athletes is rocket fuel, essentially'
A UK-based endurance athlete has developed a concentrated caffeine chew for convenient, in-race energy and is developing a vegan variant for next year's marathon and triathlon season.

'Caffeine Bullet', launched in April this year and available online, is an endurance sports chew containing 100mg caffeine with a blend of four electrolytes designed to give a fast release of caffeine into the bloodstream during sport. The mint-flavoured chew comes in a pack of four, which in total provides the 400mg recommended daily dose of caffeine for adults, enabling athletes to stagger consumption throughout a race or training.

David Hellard, managing director and founder of Caffeine Bullet, said it is about time athletes had an option for a measurable and impactful caffeine hit, free from unwanted carbohydrates and with much-needed electrolytes.

“Caffeine for most endurance athletes is rocket fuel, essentially. It's like a wave of second energy. When you tire and you run out of glycogen stores, caffeine reduces pain, it reduces fatigue and it also releases fat into the blood stream from your body which is an alternative fuel source,”​ Hellard told NutraIngredients.

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David Hellard

Athletes can be in 'complete control'

Hellard, a marathon and ultra-running champion sponsored by Clif Bar, said such a compact and instant caffeine boost is always welcome mid-race. “I've always used [caffeine] when I race, but until now the only real alternatives were gels and, for one, gels don't agree with everyone's stomach (they can be very sickly) but also the strength of caffeine until recently has always been very weak. If you wanted to take a large dose of caffeine to get your optimal amount, which is quite a strong dose, you'd have to take more gel than your stomach would be able to handle in a small period.”

Gels also contain carbohydrates which athletes need at different times to caffeine and in different amounts, he said.

“The whole idea was to come up with something far more convenient that also meant you were in complete control of when you take your caffeine and not have to time it with carbs,” ​Hellard said.

The optimal caffeine dose for an athlete is between 3-6mg per kilo of body weight, he said, so the 100mg chews enable athletes to calculate dosage effectively for optimal performance. The 100mg is also a “substantial dose”​ for whoever takes it, he said, irrespective of their size or tolerance to caffeine.

Importantly, the chew format also means faster absorption through the saliva, he said. “It's quite unusual to be having a chew when you run, cycle or swim but it's surprisingly easy to take on board. Worst case scenario, you can just put the chew behind your gum and let it melt slowly.”

Caffeine Bullet is mint flavoured to mask the bitter coffee and salty electrolyte flavour profiles, he said, and also appeal towards the end of a race when athletes have had enough of sweet products.

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Soon-to-be vegan, always for sports...

Hellard said the company is currently developing a vegan version of Caffeine Bullet, which contains egg white as a binder and texture enhancer, testing a range of alternative ingredients like chickpea water or 'aquafaba'.

“Particularly in sports, there is quite a strong move towards veganism by athletes and you just feel like a bad person by not being able to give them something they want,” ​he said.

However, developing a concentrated caffeine vegan chew is tough, he said, and the product may end up slightly different to the current format. In any case, he said the goal is to have the vegan product ready for next year's Spring marathon and triathlon season.

Asked if the chews appealed to non-sports consumers, Hellard said of course they have garnered interest with students looking to study and party hard; office workers on deadlines; people driving long distances; and even parents with busy schedules because the chew enhances performance.

However, he said the main target group remains endurance athletes. “I'm not going to be happy walking down the street seeing people just chomping down on [the chews] every day. Whilst I am ambitious, I don't feel the need to be sacrificing my morals for the sake of sales. ...We really want to create a halo effect around our brand - it's formulated for endurance athletes, sports and gyms. We want people to really view it as a sports product.”

For the time being, Caffeine Bullet will continue to directly target athletes via online sales and is currently looking to partner with vending machines in gyms and specialist sports shops in the UK.

“We're not speaking to supermarkets or large chains yet because we want people to discover the brand themselves and have a personal relationship with it. Particularly in sports, people can be very particular about their nutrition; it's a very personal experience and people have very strong views. We've tried to cultivate people being ambassadors of the product and grow the brand through word of mouth, trials and testing.”

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