- Sodium bicarbonate (bicarb soda)
Type of Nutrient:
First research regarding performance enhancement
over 60 years ago.
Little research however in following 45 years.
Reducing muscle and blood acidity (Lactic Acid
anaerobic performance (power and endurance)
* * * * *
20 grams of Sodium Bicarbonate contains 5 grams
of Sodium. Very
Ten times more sodium than you need (Recommended
Dietary Allowances 10th Edition 1989).
Can send blood pressure sky high.
CAN CAUSE EXPLOSIVE DIARRHOEA.
USE ONLY FOR BIG EVENTS.
you did chemistry at school, you may recall that strong
acids such as hydrochloric acid had the capacity to
severely burn your skin.
If such an accident occurred, the immediate
response was to wash the acid off, preferably with a
probably is of little surprise to you that certain cells
in your stomach produce hydrochloric acid to aid in the
digestion of dietary protein.
Also, many physiological reactions in your body
result in the formation of acids that could have serious
consequences if not neutralised. For example, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to the formation
of excessive amounts of acids from fat metabolism, which
may lead to a series of events involving acidosis,
diabetic coma, and death (rather serious, don’t you
sports, lactic acid is related to the onset of fatigue
in anaerobic events.
might also recall that the substance which neutralises
an acid is known as a base.
Fortunately, your body produces bases that help
to neutralise or buffer acids.
These buffers that neutralise acids are often
called alkaline. Much
of your body’s protein may serve as an alkaline base. For example, haemoglobin in the red blood cells is a protein
that is an excellent buffer for certain acids in the
body must maintain a certain balance of acids and bases.
This is known as the ‘acid-base balance’.
balance may be represented by the pH, which represents
the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. The more hydrogen ions in a solution, the more acidic it is.
Water, which is neutral, has a pH of 7.
Acidic solutions have a lower pH and basic
solutions have a higher pH than 7.
Different parts of the body may vary in their acid-base balance because
some enzymes function better in a basic environment. For example, gastric juices in your stomach are acidic (and
may burn your oesophagus when you burp and get
heartburn) and those in your intestines are alkaline.
Of importance to us in this article is the pH of
the blood and muscle cells.
blood has a pH of between 7.3-7.4, slightly alkaline
appearing to be an optimal level.
Serious disturbances in normal physiological
functioning, particularly in the brain, could result
should any deviation arise above or below this range for
a long period of time.
The diabetic coma resulting from acidosis (pH too
low) is due to its effect on the brain.
protein in your body cells and blood, your lungs
(blowing off acid in the form of excess carbon dioxide)
and your kidneys (which excrete acid salts) are amongst
the numerous systems controlling the acid-base balance
in your blood. Additionally,
the blood contains a number of alkaline salts (notably
sodium bicarbonate) which can be used to rapidly buffer
acids secreted into the blood.
pH in the muscle cells is slightly alkaline while at
it is at this level that enzymes that produce energy via
the lactic acid and oxygen energy systems perform at
their optimum. Experts
believe that if the concentration of hydrogen ions and
acidity increases in the muscle cell, then the optimal
functioning of these enzymes will be disturbed and
energy production will decrease.
Fatigue may result because of increased acid
production within the muscle cell when the lactic acid
energy system is used during high intensity exercise.
rest and exercise, proteins within the muscle cell help
to buffer metabolic acids.
But beyond the initial buffering in the cell,
during exercise, the lactic acid produced appears to be
buffered almost entirely by the sodium bicarbonate in
body produces and uses plain old baking soda to protect
its blood from acidity (Danforth WH. Control of Energy
Metabolism, New York:
Academic Press, 1965:287-298).
Armed with this knowledge, for more than 40
years, coaches have sought to use bicarbonate
supplements to reduce muscle acidity and improve
R, et al J Clin Invest 1988; 81:1190-1196).
a few top coaches have mastered its use through trial
and error - and kept the results to themselves. Only in the last decade has intensive research put this
information into scientific journals.
The secrets of bicarbonate loading - how much to
take, when to take, and what kinds of performance
benefit are now available.
underlying factor is that ingestion of salts during
exercise is to facilitate the removal of hydrogen ions
from the muscle cell so as to help maintain the muscle
cell near its optimal pH for enzyme functions and energy
GW Mainwood and colleagues in 1980 discovered that the
less acidic blood becomes when filled with bicarbonate,
the more it creates what is called a pH gradient between
muscle and blood, which pulls acid out of the muscle (Mainwood
GW et al Canadian Journal of Pharmacology
biopsy’s on athletes have shown that after bicarbonate
loading, the less acidic your blood pH, the less acidic
your muscle pH. (Sutton
JR et al Clin Sci 1981;61:331-338).
Several different terms such as buffer boosting, soda doping or soda
loading have been used to relate alkaline salts as an
ergogenic aid. The
term soda is derived from baking soda (sodium
bicarbonate), the most commonly used alkaline salt for
Others, including sodium citrate and potassium
citrate can also be used.
who rely heavily on the use of the lactic acid energy
system, such as bodybuilders, during exercise get the
most benefits from alkaline salts in contrast to
endurance athletes who find them not beneficial since
purely aerobic athletic events do not produce lactate
rapidly in the muscle cell.
a period of 50 years, research conducted in the USA and
Germany relating to alkaline salts revealed significant
physiological improvement with anaerobic exercise,
treadmill and bicycle ergometer exercise tests to
only a few publications and studies were known to
support the ergogenic effect.
Results of studies revealed no beneficial effects
of alkaline salts upon performance in a 400 metre swim
and a 1.5 mile run on a treadmill to exhaustion.
salts as a means of reducing acidity in the muscle cell
and improving anaerobic exercise have had remarkable
research interest in the last 15 years.
Various experimental designs have been used
involving differences in the exercise-testing
procedures, salts administered and the physiological or
performance measures recorded.
Exercise tasks used in most studies are those
that would stress anaerobic energy production via the
lactic acid energy system with intermittent bouts of
exercise and rest so as to see if salt could facilitate
researching the effects of bicarb soda ingestion
looked at a number of different measurements.
This includes blood pH, blood lactate, the amount
of work produced in a set time such as 30-120 seconds,
the power produced in five seconds, the exercise time to
the point of exhaustion and perceived exertion.
Maximal exercise bouts were usually about 30-120
seconds long. Other
studies used exercise tasks that were aerobic in nature
in the early stages and increased gradually in intensity
to become more anaerobic.
Other types of salts were also given, some were
placebo was a neutral salt that would not change the
acid base level but in some studies, acid salts were
given to increase the acidity of the blood.
Different alkaline salts and different dosages
were used in some studies but the most commonly used was
200-300mg of sodium bicarbonate per kg of body weight.
For a person of 80kg, this would amount to about
five level teaspoons of baking soda.
study done in 1993 looked at the effect of sodium
bicarbonate ingestion (300mg/kg body weight) on
isokinetic leg extension/flexion exercises.
Sodium bicarbonate ingestion increased the blood
pH level prior to exercise indicating metabolic
alkalosis while post exercise, the blood pH decreased
significantly indicating that metabolic acidosis had
occurred. The exercise consisted of leg extension/flexion with the
first set consisting of four reps at a speed of 60
the second set consisted of 60 reps at a speed of 240
set lasted about 85 seconds.
work was performed by subjects using sodium bicarbonate
when compared to the placebo/control conditions.
Hence, sodium bicarbonate ingestion enhances
isokinetic leg extension/flexion exercise lasting
approximately 1.5 minutes.
effects of these studies are generally in agreement.
When workload was increased to above 80 per cent
of maximal oxygen uptake, which makes it partly
anaerobic for most people, the perceived effort was less
when bi-carb was taken, indicating that the perceived
workload was less strenuous.
ENDURANCE AND POWER
have been noted from
studies of the amount of work accomplished in
30-120 seconds, exercise test to exhaustion of up to 10
minutes in duration and performance on anaerobic task
after prolonged aerobic exercise.
One well designed study by Dr D Wilkes and
colleagues at York University, Toronto, reported a 2.9
seconds faster running time over a distance of 800
bodyweight of Sodium bicarbonate or placebo were taken
over a 2-hour period, up to 30 minutes before an 800
metre race, (Wilkes
D et al Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
2.9 seconds average improvement translates to a
distance of 19 metres.
In an 800 metre race, that’s the difference
between winning and coming no-where.
David Costill and colleagues at the Human Performance
Laboratory at Ball State University, Indiana gave
athletes a lower dose of sodium bicarbonate (200mg/kg
athletes then did five, one minute sprints on an
ergometer bicycle, the last one to absolute exhaustion.
The Soda loading improved the time to exhaustion
of the last sprint by an incredible 42% (Costill DL et al Int J Sports Med 1984;5:225-231).
studies have also reported increased endurance, and
increased power output after soda loading in maximal
short term exercise.
(Sutton JR et al Clin Sci 1981; 61:331-338.
Rupp JC et al Med and Sci in Sports and Exer
1983; 15-115, McKenzie
DC, et al J Sports Sciences 1986; 4:35-38).
to these results, an equal amount of studies have
revealed no significant improvements in these areas but
generally they have used lower doses of bicarbonate, or
have used exercise duration greater than 5 minutes.
(Inbar O et al J Sports Sciences 1983; 1:95-104,
Horswill CA et al Med and Sci In Sports and Exer
George KP et al ERGONOMICS 1983;31(11):
an important note is that no study reported a decrease
in physical performance.
evidence indicates that both dose and exercise duration
fairly recent study done here in Australia at the
Tasmanian Institute of Technology (McNaughton LR, Cedaro
R The Aust Journal of Sci and Med in Sport 1991; 23(3):
66-69) gave elite class rowers 300mg/kg bodyweight of
bicarbonate or placebo.
Ninety-five minutes later, subjects made a
maximal effort for
six minutes on a rowing ergometer.
Compared with placebo, the subjects rowed almost
50 metres further in the same time when receiving sodium
was greater than the difference between first and last
at the 1991 WORLD ROWING CHAMPIONSHIPS.
about half of the studies have revealed positive
results, the other half no improvement, and no studies
have found a decrease in performance, logic suggests bi-carb
soda may be helpful to some individuals if used
bi-carb induces a metabolic alkalosis, it would make
sense that people who perform activities that produce
dramatic drops in pH would benefit from its ingestion.
Soda loading works best as an ergogenic aid only
at high doses (300mg/kg bodyweight) and only for short,
almost maximal exercise (30 seconds to 6 minutes).
would include anaerobic activities such as the 400 or
800 metre run, and if the type of weight training you do
involves high volume, low weight, high reps, and short
intervals, then performance could be enhanced.
is no longer any doubt that in short events, sodium
bicarbonate can provide a winning edge.
would appear to help athletes using lactic acids energy
system in sports demanding all out effort for periods of
about 30 seconds to six minutes although the lactic acid
energy system may also be involved in activities of
lesser and greater time periods than this range.
Potassium phosphate, citrate,
carnosine, and creatine
monohydrate may also be used.
Creatine monohydrate is currently one of the
hottest food supplements with some solid research to
prove its efficiency.
Much of the increased power evident when athletes
load creatine monohydrate may be partially due to its
intramuscular buffering capabilities.
bi-carb has certainly a price advantage over the other
lactic acid buffers mentioned but can cause fluid
retention because of its high sodium content.
This is of major concern around contest time for
bodybuilders. However, in off-season, it is not of such importance.
has combined sodium bicarbonate, creatine
monohydrate and potassium
phosphate into a super lactic acid
buffering formula called PowerStack. Click
here to read more on PowerStack.
there is one big problem.
Many of the subjects in the research studies
experienced some form of gastro intestinal distress,
about 60 minutes after ingesting the bicarbonate
includes belching and diarrhoea.
One investigator noted that several of his
subjects had what he termed “explosive diarrhoea”
(uncomfortable but not life threatening!).
Such conditions could be debilitating to athletic
ways to solve the problem:
the bicarb every 20 minutes in divided doses, beginning
three hours before the event, and ending one hour before
Drink freely up to 30 minutes before the event.
it well in training before you ever do it in
excessive consumption of alkaline salts may lead to the
development of alkalosis (pH too high) with symptoms
such as irritability, delirium and muscle spasms.
everyone is different. One man’s meat may be another man’s poison.
Soda loading is definitely worth trying.
You can judge for yourself the effect on your
ON HOW TO TAKE SODIUM BICARBONATE
adequate dose would be about 300mg per kg of body weight
mixed with around 400ml of liquid, eg a 90kg bodybuilder
would take 27 grams on an empty stomach approximately
30-60 minutes before exercise.
The bi-carb can be mixed with water or other
In a nutshell, the theory behind soda loading is
that by neutralising the acid (lactic) produced by
muscle cells during anaerobic exercise, the pH level of
the working muscle will be kept in an optimal range for
peak performance longer.
If gastro troubles are experienced, then the
bicarb could be taken on future occasions as such:
grams bicarb soda
hrs 40 min
grams bicarb soda
hrs 20 min
grams bicarb soda
grams bicarb soda
hr 40 min
grams bicarb soda
hr 20 min
grams bicarb soda
grams bicarb soda