Why Do Rugby Players Chew Gum? (Explained)

Have you spotted a rugby player on the sideline chewing gum? Or standing for their national anthem with their jaw clearly moving?

Rugby players chew gum before a match for a variety of reasons. Let’s run through them.

I’m going to reference several academic studies. We can’t draw specific conclusions about the effects on rugby players. But you can be sure that the coaches and players have heard about these studies too.

Chewing Gum May Help Calm Pre-Match Nerves

Even the elite rugby players say that they get jitters and butterflies in the stomach before the big match.

This varies from player to player. But I’ve read plenty of books from star international players recounting tales of teammates shaking and retching in the changing room before a big match.

Some players use the nerves to fuel their energy on the pitch. But it can be debilitating for others.

So, can chewing gum help with this?

A study in 2009 make several groups of people go through complex tasks under pressure. The groups that chewed gum showed less anxiety and stress.

Gum May Increase Alertness At The Start Of A Rugby Match

For some reason, there were several different academic studies on chewing gum in 2009.

I’ve already mentioned one, so here’s another.

This study measured alertness while people chewed gum through a session. Interestingly, the levels of alertness were boosted toward the end of the session.

However, the boost didn’t last once the chewing stopped. As rugby players don’t chew gum during a match, this would imply that it’s not much use chewing away in the tunnel.

However, there would still be a benefit if the alertness boost lasted for the first few minutes that a player runs onto the pitch.

We talk about players “getting into” a match or “getting up to the pace” of the game when they come on as a substitute.

We also see players fumble the ball in the first few minutes. If they got an alertness boost that just lasted until the first ruck, then it could be worth the extra edge.

Benefits Of Gum After Workout Sessions

Elite rugby players typically have weights sessions every second day. You can read more in our article on how rugby players increase their strength.

These kinds of sessions can be dehydrating and lead to dry mouth. Of course, players should drink plenty of water during and after these sessions.

But we also know that chewing gum stimulates saliva. This becomes part of the gym habit for many rugby players.

Speaking Of Habit…

I mentioned that many rugby players will be aware of academic studies that show some benefits to chewing gum.

But there are plenty of players who wouldn’t have the slightest interest in the scientific aspects of what they do.

They just chew gum out of a childhood or teenage habit.

Why Do Some Rugby Players Chew Caffeinated Gum?

Sports scientists and physiotherapists already knew that caffeine is an aid to

  • high-intensive activity
  • endurance
  • performance in a stop-and-go activity

Of course, a rugby match ticks all these boxes. We’ve covered this in detail in our articles on how far rugby players run in a match.

Another of our articles shows that coffee is almost universally cited by rugby players describing what they have for breakfast on the morning of a match.

But while physios don’t object to players drinking cups a few hours before a match, they don’t want them glugging a flask in the changing room.

This is why there has been interest in the use of caffeinated chewing gum as part of the pre-match ritual.

Fast absorption

This is an alternative to caffeine capsules, which also don’t involve large amounts of fluid.

However, gum has the advantage over capsules because the caffeine is absorbed much more quickly than capsules.

The difference is about 10 minutes versus 50 minutes.

In other words, the player has to take the capsule an hour before the match. But they can pop in a stick of caffeinated gum in the changing room.

Research results

A recent academic study of the effects was published in 2019. This specifically looked at rugby players (many studies look at other sports).

The researchers set up a set of rugby-specific tests. Well, that’s how they described the activities, which included short sprinting bursts and jumping agility tests.

In general, the conclusions showed that caffeinated gum enhanced performance amongst the players.

Do Rugby Players Chew Gum During A Match?

In general, rugby players don’t chew gum during match play.

If you see their jaws moving, don’t mistake that for gum chewing. They are most likely chewing on their gum shield (mouth guard) through habit.

In underage rugby, coaches and referees would tend to prevent young players from chewing gum during a match. This is due to the potential danger of choking.

I’ve never heard of a referee having to intervene in a senior match. I assume that’s because players simply don’t chew gum on the field.