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Race Fueling

Nature’s Caffeine Boost: Using Tea in Triathlon Training

Rich in both caffeine and health-boosting benefits, tea is naturally making its way into sports drinks.

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Rich in both caffeine and health-boosting benefits, tea is naturally making its way into sports drinks. 

It’s no surprise that more caffeinated sports drinks are hitting the market. Caffeine has been widely studied and proven to boost sports performance by helping athletes concentrate better and lowering their perceived exertion. But while several products have used caffeine created in a lab, recently more and more products are turning to tea.

“Tea is an all-natural and ‘gentle’ source of health-promoting caffeine,” says registered dietitian and board-certified sports nutritionist Lauren Antonucci of Nutrition Energy in New York City. “Many athletes use caffeine anyway, so why not get both great sports nutrition and caffeine in one place?”

Brands use both matcha green tea (the whole tea leaf in powder form) and black tea (which has undergone fermentation) for their pick-me-ups. Both contain a host of nutrients including antioxidants and potassium. Matcha also contains vitamins A and C, and fiber. Both teas contain similar health benefits, Antonucci says, such as lowering the risk of stroke, cancer prevention (thanks to the antioxidants), stress relief, improved digestion, better immunity and increased energy. “It makes sense for a health-conscious athlete to be drawn to this source of caffeine,” Antonucci says.

Caffeine Check

The caffeine source in sports nutrition is typically proprietary information, says Jenny Vierling, an endurance athlete and the co-founder of Tailwind Nutrition, one of the brands that recently hopped on the tea train. However, if you see “anhydrous caffeine,” she says, that means it’s created through a chemical or synthetic process as opposed to being naturally derived from a plant source, such as coffee. Or tea.

Hot brews

Are these three tea-containing sports drinks your (ahem) cup of tea?

Tailwind Caffeinated Endurance Fuel Green Tea Buzz
The caffeine in this new flavor is derived from both powdered green tea and organic, non-GMO green coffee beans. While the flavor has green tea in the name, taste testers didn’t pick up on that—it had more of a pleasant sweet and floral taste with a clean finish. We loved that the powder dissolves completely in water and that the resulting drink is clear. It’s designed to meet all your calorie and electrolyte needs (no gels or bars required), so it contains 200 calories, 50 grams of carbs, 70 milligrams of caffeine and more than 850 milligrams of electrolytes in a two-serving packet.
$28 for 12 stick packs, Tailwindnutrition.com

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix Matcha Green Tea with Lemons
You can tell that this green drink has cane sugar, matcha green tea and lemon juice powder in its ingredient list—that’s pretty much how it tastes, like a lemony green tea. It has a refreshingly mild, clean taste, and each serving of this non-GMO, vegan beverage contains 80 calories, 16 milligrams of caffeine, 21 grams of carbs and more than 400 milligrams of electrolytes.
$19.50 for 20 servings, Skratchlabs.com

GU Roctane Energy Drink Summit Tea
Iced tea lovers will be fans of this light and refreshing new flavor from GU. Made with natural black tea, it’s heavy on calories (250) and electrolytes (320 milligrams), but not too heavy on the sweeteners. When cold, it tastes like a glass of iced tea mixed with a packet of sugar. Each serving has 35 milligrams of caffeine and 1900 milligrams of amino acids, which have been shown to improve cardiac output and help repair muscle damage.
$30 for 12 servings, Guenergy.com