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Energy Systems


PHOSPHATE SALTS (Sodium Phosphate and Potassium Phosphate)


Scientific Name:                  Sodium Phosphate and Potassium Phosphate

Type of Nutrient:                   Mineral salt of Phosphorus (essential nutrient)

History:                                  Popular with European athletes

                                               Used as an ergogenic aid for over 60 years

                                               German soldiers reportedly used them in World War I to relieve fatigue

How Supplied:                      Crystalline Salt

Natural Source:                    Cod, Beef, Milk, Yoghurt, Chicken, Rice, Bread


Used for:                                Lactic Acid buffer.  Increasing 2,3-DPG (2,3 - diphosphoglycerate), the enzyme that unloads oxygen into muscle.  Improving production and use of glycogen for fuel.

                                                Improving both Endurance and Anaerobic performance.

Cost Effectiveness:                        * * * * *

Safety:                     Potassium Phosphate - Excellent

                                 Sodium Phosphate - Good (used extensively in the meat and baking industries)

                                 Excess of Phosphorus excreted in urine.





            In both endurance and anaerobic exercise, a lot of muscle phosphate is lost into the blood (Kreider RB, et al Med Sci Sports Exer 1990;22:250-255.  DALE G, et al Brit Med J 1987;294:939.  McCully K, et al Muscle and Nerve 1988;11:212-216).

            Resting levels of blood phosphate are increased with regular exercise, indicating that the body responds to exercise by increasing its overall level of phosphate, and that training increases phosphate needs.  (Ljinghall S et al Acta Medica Scand 1987;221:83-93).

            When phosphate levels are low, performance in marathon runners is usually down.  (Colgan M Optimum Sports Nutrition 1993 p291).

            Your body cannot manufacture phosphorus.  It is an essential mineral you must obtain from your diet.  In your body it is present as phosphate salts.  Although phosphates are added to many foods and the daily intake in Australia is greater than the Recommended Daily Allowance, recent studies have shown pathologically low levels of blood phosphate in some athletes after endurance events (Dale G et al Brit Med J 1987;294-939).  So even our high food intake of phosphate may be insufficient to supply the demands of  intense training.  Most fit and healthy athletes show resting phosphate levels at the top end of the normal medical range.  But this range was conceived for sedentary people.  Does it cover optimal performance levels for athletes?



            Research has indicated that phosphate salts can boost performance in track athletes in events ranging in distance from the 100 metre sprint to the 26 mile marathon.  To be effective over this wide range, the phosphate salts would have to have the potential to improve energy production in all three human energy systems - the ATP-CP, lactic acid, and oxygen systems - which they do.

            Relative to the ATP-CP energy system, phosphates form high energy bonds when attached to the organic compounds adenosine (ATP) and creatine (CP).  There is evidence that supplemented phosphate improves the production and use of glycogen for fuel through its incorporation into numerous enzymes in energy production (Chasiotis D Med Sci Sports Exer 1988;20:545-550).  Phosphates are necessary for optimal functioning of several B Vitamins, such as B1 (thiamine), which is involved in aerobic energy production from carbohydrates and fats.  Sodium and potassium phosphate serve as buffers in the body and may function similarly to alkaline salts in improving the lactic acid energy system.  Recently, Dr Richard Kreider and his colleagues at Old Dominion University, Virginia have, in repeated studies of phosphate supplementation, demonstrated it to buffer lactic acid (Kreider RB, et al. Med Sci Sports Exer 1990;22:250-255.  Miller GW, et al Med Sci Sports Exer 1991;23:535).

            Studies from various laboratories have repeatedly shown that phosphate supplementation raises blood levels of  2,3 - diphosphoglycerate (2,3 - DPG), the enzyme that deposits oxygen from haemoglobin into muscle cells (Farber M, et al. J Lab Clin Med 1984;104:166-175.  CADE R et al. Med Sci Sports Exer 1984;16:263-268.  STEWART I, McNAUGHTON L Res Quart 1990;61:80-84).  Phosphate is a far safer but effective alternative to erythropoietin (EPO) - the real heart stopper.  Slightly recapping, all three energy systems, ATP-CP, Lactic Acid and Oxygen are improved.  To what extent the following studies will indicate. 




            Dr Robert Cade and his group at the Department of Medicine of the University of Florida in 1984 ran a well controlled study (double blind, placebo, crossover design).  Ten highly trained distance runners consumed either 1 gram of sodium phosphate four times daily or a placebo for three days.  They then ran them on a treadmill to exhaustion.  During the phosphate loading trial, lactic acid levels were lower, 2,3 -DPG levels were higher, VO2 max increased by 6-12%, and subjects ran 3-9 minutes longer.  (Cade R, et al Med Sci Sports Exer 1984;16:263-268).

            Other research findings from the Florida physiology laboratory suggest that phosphate salts will reduce the perceived psychological stress as measured by RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion), of riding a bicycle for 3 hours at 75 to 80 percent VO2 max.  Physiological measurements during this study suggested that increases in 2,3 DPG improved the release of oxygen from the Red Blood Cells and thus reduced the workload of the heart.  The findings from the Florida laboratory strongly support an ergogenic effect of phosphate salts, and the lead investigator in these studies has been quoted as saying that ‘phosphate salts do allow for better performance’.

            Closer to home, Dr Ian Stewart and his colleagues at the Tasmanian Institute of Technology did a study of highly trained cyclists, giving them 3.6 grams of sodium phosphate a day or a placebo, for three days before a maximum effort on the ergometer bicycle.  Results showed that phosphate loading reduced lactic acid accumulation, increased 2,3 - DPG production during exercise, increased VO2 max by 11%, and increased time to exhaustion by 20% (Stewart I, McNaughton L Res Quart 1990;61:80-84).

            One of the most recent and best studies (KREIDER RB, et al Int J Sports Nutr 1992;2:20-47) which tested both anaerobic and endurance exercise gave trained cyclists 4 grams of sodium phosphate per day or a placebo, for 3 days prior to a maximal exercise test and a 40km time trial on the ergometer bicycle.

            During the anaerobic phosphate trials, maximal power output increased by 17%.  As Dr Michael Colgin points out in his excellent book OPTIMUM SPORTS NUTRITION, that’s the equivalent to adding 51 lbs to a 300 lb maximum bench press!  During the aerobic phosphate trials, time for the 40km ride was reduced by 3.5 minutes.  That’s big.  Despite some contrasting findings in other studies, there is no doubt in my mind that phosphate works big time.  I have personally confirmed similar results on a female olympic level sprinter over 400 and 800 metre distances.



            The regimen practised by the researchers at the University of Florida has proved to be successful with no adverse effects in the subjects being reported.


            The dosage was:            1 gram sodium phosphate

                                                       4 x per day (ie  4g per day)

                                                       Mix with water              eg         1g Breakfast

                                                       or fruit juice                                1g Lunch

                                                                                                          1g Tea

                                                                                                          1g Supper


                                                     For            3-4 days prior to competition

            The last dose may be 2 to 3 hours prior to the event

            The event can be either endurance (eg Triathalon) or anaerobic (eg game of squash, weight training) since phosphate loading works for both endurance or anaerobic exercise.  A bodybuilder may benefit from daily use of  phosphate salt in addition to a calcium supplement and a combination of low, med and high rep training.

            Sodium phosphate has been used in most studies but potassium phosphate  works too.  With the high level of sodium added to our food and the big losses of potassium in food processing, potassium phosphate would be a lot healthier.  But don’t use calcium phosphate.  Two studies that have tried calcium phosphate found no effect at all (Bradel D, et al J Appl Physio 1988;65:1821-1826.  MANNIX E, et al Med Sci Sports Exer 1990;22:341-347).  

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            P.S.  If anyone tells you that phosphate doesn’t work, just acknowledge their comment, and keep your edge a secret.