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Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium Bicarbonate and Endurance Sports

What is Sodium Bicarbonate?

Sodium Bicarbonate is more commonly known as Bicarbonate of Soda, or baking soda.  It is a mixture of sodium (salt) and bicarbonate (an acid buffer). It is often used by endurance athletes to enhance athletic ability by buffering the build-up of lactic acid in the blood.

Who Should Consider Taking Sodium Bicarbonate supplements?

Any endurance athlete looking to improve race performance, and to decrease the negative effects of lactic acid, may benefit from sodium bicarbonate.

Summary of Sodium Bicarbonate's Phyiological Effects:

  • Lowers blood lactate levels
  • Enhanced endurance performance
  • Improved recovery between sprint intervals

Sodium Bicarbonate Research

Sodium bicarbonate has been shown to improve endurance run, cycling, and swimming performances.  Sodium Bicarbonate is believed to work by buffering the build up of lactic acid, and may therefore reduce, the negative effects associated with increased blood acidity.  Increased acidity is believed to affect the level of fatigue by: 1) inhibiting key enzymes used for the production of energy; 2) inhibiting the release of calcium ions during muscular contractions; and 3) a reduced level of muscle fibre contractility (Bird et al., 1995).  In effect, sodium bicarbonate soaks up the fatigue inducing effects of lactic acid.  This reduces the level of blood and muscle acidity and is believed to allow an athlete to exercise at a higher level before they suffer the negative effects of increased blood and muscle acidity.

Research has demonstrated that sodium bicarbonate ingestion improves 400m run time by 1.5secs (Goldfinch et al., 1988), 800m run time by 2.9secs (Wilkes et al., 1983), and 1500m run time by 4.1secs (Bird et al., 1995).  The main reason for the improved exercise performance following bicarbonate ingestion is believed to be due to an increased removal of lactate protons from the muscles and increased buffering of acidity in the blood (Gledhill, 1984; Roth and Brooks, 1990; Bird et al., 1995).

Is Sodium Bicarbonate effective?

Sodium Bicarbonate has proved to be effective at improving endurance performance by buffering the build up of lactic acid.

How to take Sodium Bicarbonate?

Current research suggests that to gain an improvement in endurance performance, athletes should consume 300mg of sodium bicarbonate per kg of bodyweight (McNaughton, 1992). It should be noted that higher dosages of sodium bicarbonate are likely to cause gastrointestinal problems such as stomach pain, cramping or diarrhoea, and some sensitive individuals may suffer this at the 300mg dose level.  Drinking a litre of water with each dose, or splitting the dose into several smaller doses, taken throughout the day, helps to reduce the negative side-effects.

Bicarbonate References

Bird, S. R., Wiles, J. and Robbins, J. (1995) The effect of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on 1500-m racing time. Journal of Sports Sciences. 13, 399-403. 

Goldfinch, J., McNaughton, L. and Davies, P. (1988) Induced metabolic alkalosis and its effects on 400m racing time. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 57, 45-48. 

Gledhill, N. (1984) Bicarbonate ingestion and anaerobic performance. Sports Medicine. 1, 177-180. 

McNaughton, L. (1992) Bicarbonate loading and its use in sports. International Clinical Nutritional Review. 12, 65-67. 

Roth, D. A. and Brooks, G. A. (1990) Lactate and pyruvate transport is dominated by a pH gradient sensitive carrier in rat skeletal muscle sarcolemmal vesicles. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics. 279, 386-394. 

Wilkes, D., Gledhill, N. and Smythe, R. (1983) Effect of acute induced metabolic alkalosis on 800m racing time. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 15, 277-280.