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What is Sodium Bicarbonate?

Sodium Bicarbonate has many other names, which include sodium hydrogen carbonate, sodium bicarb, baking soda, bicarbonate of soda, or different permutations and combinations of these. It is a white cystaline compound containing an atom of sodium, hydrogen, and a molecule of carbonate. Other than being useful in the kitchen and as an antacid, it also has serious applications to improve exercise performance.

Where Does Sodium Bicarbonate Come From?

Sodium bicarb can be synthesised from sodium chloride, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. It is often used to "raise" bread, cakes, and other baked goods.

Sodium Bicarbonate Benefits

Sodium bicarb is an old school supplement, nothing fancy, that when consumed, is able to increase blood carbonate levels (and hence pH) and buffer against fatigue from exercise induced acid build up. It is an extracellular buffer and works outside of the cells, in the blood.

Sodium Bicarbonate Benefits for Endurance

It has been shown that when supplemented with sodium bicarb, subjects were able to increase their exercise performance when durations exceeded two minutes (McNaughton, 1992). It is likely that the effects of sodium bicarb do not kick in until after the body has had a chance to produce lactic acid from intense exercise. Studies that have supported such findings include those involving elite rowers (McNaughton & Cedaro, 1991), college levels swimmers (Gao et al, 1988), and competitive cyclers (McNaughton et al, 1999). So it can be seen that bicarb may have applications to a wide range of sports.

Sodium Bicarbonate Benefits for the Beginner Athlete

Although it has been shown that bicarb may be effective for trained athletes, there is evidence to show that it is even more effective for beginner or casual trainers. This is because these people are less physically adapted to the effects of acidic build up, whereas the more trained athletes have a more effective internal mechanism for buffering acid (Peart et al, 2012).

Sodium Bicarbonate Negatives and Side Effects

There are a few potential downsides to the use of bicarb. First of all, its effect varies greatly among people. Some experience quite significant performance gains, while others experience only very moderate improvements.

Secondly, because rather large doses of sodium bicarb needs to be ingested, it may cause stomach upsets such as belching, stomach ache, diarrhoea, bloating, and nausea. It is therefore recommended that this supplement should be tested by the particular individual before using it for competition (Cameron et al, 2010). Furthermore, bicarb is not a particularly palatable compound, so it is recommended that it should be mixed with flavoured water such as cordial.

Sodium Bicarbonate Recommended Doses and Ingredient Timing

The recommended dose for sodium bicarbonate is quite large. Start off with 0.2 to 0.4 g/kg body weight. It can be taken one to two hours pre workout in capsules or dissolved in cordial or your pre workout shake.

Sodium Bicarbonate Supplements

Sodium Bicarbonate can be found as baking soda in the supermarket. It is also listed as an ingredient on many bodybuilding supplements such as pre workout supplements, HGH supplements, and protein powders. However, these concentrations tend to be much lower than the dose that is effective for improving exercise performance. In such instances, the bicarb is used to improve the physical qualities and taste of the product, rather than for its ergogenic properties. Therefore, if you are after the potential boost provided by sodium bicarb, you are better off purchasing this as a stand-alone. Alternatively, you can consider a beta-alanine supplement, which also provides a buffering effect. However, beta-alanine may be more effective for power athletes and bodybuilders than endurance athletes.

Stacking Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is an extracellular buffer and can be stacked with beta-alanine (an intracellular buffer), thus providing dual buffering. It can also be stacked with other pre workout supplements and intra workout supplements and creatine to help improve workout intensity.

Cameron et al (2010), Increased blood pH but not performance with sodium bicarbonate supplementation in elite rugby union players. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20: 307-321
Gao et al (1988), Sodium bicarbonate ingestion improves performance in interval swimming. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 58: 171-174
McNaughton & Cedaro (1991), The effect of sodium bicarbonate on rowing ergometer performance in elite rowers. AJSMS, 23: 66-69
McNaughton (1992), Sodium bicarbonate ingestion and its effects on anaerobic exercise of various durations. Journal of Sports Sciences, 10: 425-435
McNaughton et al (1999), Sodium bicarbonate can be used as an ergogenic aid in high-intensity, competitive cycle ergometry of 1 h duration. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 80: 64-69
Peart et al (2012), Practical Recommendations for Coaches and Athletes: A Meta-Analysis of Sodium Bicarbonate use for Athletic Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Epub)

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