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How to Take Sodium Bicarbonate for Sports Performance

Updated: Apr 10

This article is not a substitute for clinical advice.


Sodium Bicarbonate for sports performance

What is Sodium Bicarbonate and How Can it Help Sports Performance?


Sodium Bicarbonate is a white powder often used in baking as it produces gas when mixed with water and an acid. This can help baked goods rise.


Sodium Bicarbonate is one of the most researched products to improve exercise performance. The current theory explaining bicarb's effect is bicarb absorbs lactic acid as it is made as a byproduct from working muscles.


You can see the equation below demonstrating how hydrogen ions (acid from lactic acid) reacts with bicarb to make carbon dioxide, which you can breathe out. As you can see the benefit of bicarb is dependent on you being able to breathe out the increased carbon dioxide.


chemical reaction for sodium bicarbonate in sports performance

Acid accumulation in working muscles is thought to be one of the main things causing fatigue throughout exercise. Therefore, reducing this could improve performance.


 

How Much Can Sodium Bicarbonate Increase Sports Performance?


In cycling ramp tests cyclists who supplemented with bicarb lasted significantly longer and reached higher wattages than athletes without bicarb and compared to attempts by the same athlete where they took no bicarb. Below you can see the graph and the research paper is linked.


SB-Sol is bicarb in a drink, SB-Cap is bicarb in a tablet and the others are placebo controls with no bicarb. You can see the time to exhaustion (TTE) was higher when taking bicarb. Showing you can hold the same power for longer.

effect of sodium bicarbonate on sports performance

In another piece of research (linked) rowers were 2% faster over 2km when taking bicarb. However, the size of the effect was dependent on racing with the peak dose of bicarb in their bodies. This ranged form 75-150minutes after taking.


The main effect of bicarb is in high intensity exercise and it's effects last for 12 minutes. It seems reasonable it can increase performance in any high intensity activity of around this duration.


Bicarb can also reduce muscle inflammation and damage which can increase recovery from training.

 

How to Take Sodium Bicarbonate?


Guidelines state 0.3-0.5g per kilo of body weight 3 hours before your event.


The easiest way to take it is mixing the powder, which you buy from a supermarket, with water and drinking it. This can produce gas in your stomach which can cause stomach problems. To reduce this, it is possible to take more smaller doses throughout the day. Try splitting this into 4 doses for example.


There are also products which give bicarb in tablet form which may be better tolerated. For example extreme endurance.

 

Problems With Bi Carb and Possible Solutions


Bicarb is high in sodium, which can make you retain water. This is great if you need to be highly hydrated for an event, but may cause problems for other people.


As mentioned before, bicarb can cause stomach problems due to the production of gas. A possible solution is to take the bi carb with a meal, especially one high in carbs. Or spread your dose of bicarb through the day.


Some of the tablet forms contain high doses of calcium, these may not be great to take long term. There is no evidence supporting this currently. For this reason I suggest using them only before events where you want to maximise performance.

 

References

Gurton WH, Matta GG, Gough LA, Ranchordas MK, King DG, Hurst P. Sodium Bicarbonate and Time-to-Exhaustion Cycling Performance: A Retrospective Analysis Exploring the Mediating Role of Expectation. Sports Med Open. 2023 Jul 31;9(1):65. doi: 10.1186/s40798-023-00612-5. PMID: 37523028; PMCID: PMC10390418.


Martin RAXJ, Hilton NP, Sparks SA, Saunders B, McNaughton LR. The effects of enteric-coated sodium bicarbonate supplementation on 2 km rowing performance in female CrossFit® athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2023 Jun;123(6):1191-1198. doi: 10.1007/s00421-023-05140-4. Epub 2023 Jan 27. PMID: 36705750; PMCID: PMC10191925.


Grgic J, Pedisic Z, Saunders B, Artioli GG, Schoenfeld BJ, McKenna MJ, Bishop DJ, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Kalman DS, Arent SM, VanDusseldorp TA, Lopez HL, Ziegenfuss TN, Burke LM, Antonio J, Campbell BI. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: sodium bicarbonate and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Sep 9;18(1):61. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00458-w. PMID: 34503527; PMCID: PMC8427947.




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