FDA scrutinizing caffeinated energy gels, chews, gum

The FDA will investigate energy foods — including gels and chews sold in the outdoor world — that contain increasing amounts of caffeine.

Is a single serving of gel with nearly two coffee cups-worth of caffeine dangerous? How about a pack of gum that is equivalent to four cups?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this week announced that it will investigate energy foods — including gels and chews sold in the outdoor world — that contain increasing amounts of caffeine marketed to lift energy.

FDA officials expressed concern that the growing number candy-like and snack-food sources of caffeine could be dangerous and abused because of their quick and easy consumption.

Wrigley’s recent debut of its Alert Energy gum, each piece of which contains 40mg of caffeine, equal to half-a-cup of coffee, seems to have awakened the FDA. Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner likened the product, which includes 8 pieces per package, to “four cups of coffee in your pocket.”

While officials say infrequent or even moderate caffeine use isn’t dangerous for most adults, overdose amounts of caffeine, especially in children and adolescents, have been linked to health and behavioral problems. Some critics also target caffeine’s addictive nature, and its disruption of the body’s natural sleeping pattern.

Outdoor energy food manufacturers told SNEWS they’re aware of the FDA concerns, but don’t feel that they’ve gone overboard with caffeine doses in their products. In most cases, only a couple of items in their energy food lineup contain caffeine.

In a quick survey of these products, SNEWS found varying caffeine amounts (see list below). In general, most gels and chews included 30-50mg of caffeine per package, equal to a little less or more than a half-a-cup of coffee.

The highest amount of caffeine in the outdoor world comes from Clif Shot Turbo Energy Gel, which boasts the product (see right) as “the only energy gel with 100mg of performance-enhancing caffeine.” A coffee-cup graphic at the top of the package claims the 1.2-ounce package of gel contains caffeine equal to two cups of coffee.


"Many sports nutrition products contain caffeine," Clif Director of Communications Keely Wachs told SNEWS. "Some of our endurance-focused products have varying levels of added caffeine, in the form of green tea extract. This allows athletes to tailor their caffeine intake to match their endurance needs."

While promotional of the stimulant, Clif also issues caution on packaging and its website, stating: “Caffeinated flavors are not recommended for pregnant women, children or people sensitive to caffeine.”

"[The] products are sports nutrition products intended and marketed specifically for adult endurance athletes," she said.

 Wired-up outdoors
A sampling of caffeinated* outdoor energy products, per package

  • Clif Shot Tubo Gel – 100mg
  • Clif Shot Gel – 50 mg (also available with 25mg)
  • Clif Shot Blok – 50mg (also available with 25 mg)
  • Hammer Gel – 50 mg
  • Jelly Belly Extreme Sport Beans – 50 mg
  • ProBar Energy Chews – 40 mg
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews – 32mg

*30-40 mg equals about half a cup of coffee; all the above products are also available without caffeine.

--David Clucas


Honey Stinger Gel

Buzz, buzz, yes, this is a sports gel that is honey, pure and simple. What an idea! These contain a very smooth honey that goes down in one glistening swallow without the harshness many may connect with off-the-counter honey. Yes, it's just as sweet, but that mild smoothness is a ...read more