By Kevin Cann – Steroidal.com
I am a nutritional coach, strength coach, and mma fighter. I am always looking for ways to gain a competitive edge, within the rules of sport of course. However, there is a lot of stuff out there and most of it can cost too much of my well-earned money. To top it off a lot of these expensive supplements are ineffective at increasing performance. However, there is a cheap product that most people have lying around their homes that may be an effective way to increase performance in the gym.
This household product is baking soda, or commonly referred to as sodium bicarbonate. Maybe the Arm and Hammer guy got so jacked from ingesting some of his own product pre-workout? Sodium bicarbonate has been researched as a performance enhancer for quite some time. It shows its biggest effects when ingested before a high intensity workout.
The idea is that sodium bicarbonate can create a more alkaline cellular environment, which would limit the acidic effects of high intensity exercise. Why would this be important? The breakdown of glucose leads to a buildup of lactate and hydrogen ions (H+). An increase in lactate and H+ leads to decreases in performance. In fact, this is one of the mechanisms we are training in the gym. We are teaching our body to better clear lactate from the system. Lactate clearance is higher in trained individuals then untrained individuals (1).
This is not as simple as saying if we clear out lactate we will be able to tolerate higher levels of high intense exercise. Lactate is actually our friend. There are numerous slow twitch muscle fibers that actually prefer lactate as fuel. The negative effects of exercise are actually due to an increase in acidity. This is caused by an increase in the H+. Some research actually suggests that the increase in lactate actually delays the onset of acidosis (2). With all of that said an increase in blood lactate concentrations does coincide with a decrease in performance. The reason for this is just unknown.
The theory behind using baking soda as a performance enhancer is that it can help buffer the acidic buildup in the body and allow us to generate more high intensity effort. The logic makes sense, but the research is contradictory. A meta-analysis looked at 29 studies that investigated the performance enhancing effects of sodium bicarbonate. They found 19 studies that showed positive effects and 16 that showed no effects at all. There was a large range of performance enhancing effects and the dosage was only moderately related to an increase in pH (3).
This meta-analysis did not give us a definitive answer on the performance enhancing effects of baking soda, but it did tell us that it will not decrease performance and there is a chance it may increase performance. Another review of the same data drew up a different conclusion. These researchers concluded after reviewing the literature that there seems to be a 1-2% increase in activity lasting a few minutes and are hypothesizing that this increase may be present after training lasting an hour (4).
Is a 1-2% increase in performance worth it? This all depends on what you are trying to do. If you go to the gym as part of a healthy lifestyle then it may not be worth experimenting with. However, a 1-2% increase in performance for high level athletes is a big jump. The higher the level of competition the less amount of skill that separates the best from everyone else. A supplement, training program, etc. that can lead to a 1-2% increase in performance can be the difference of a million dollar contract and getting cut from a roster.
The good thing about sodium bicarbonate is it is not banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This means there will be no harm in trying some baking soda pre-workout. The dosages that seem to have the greatest effects in the literature are 20g-30g (.3-.4g/kg of bodyweight) taken 60 to 90 minutes before exercise. Make sure to take this dosage with a large quantity of water.
My only caution to taking this supplement is it may suppress the body’s ability to clear lactate and H+ on its own. Remember that the body is a well adaptive machine and it will always choose the path of least resistance. If you continuously take baking soda pre-workout your body will rely on that to help maintain appropriate pH levels. This means that when you take it away you may see a noticeable dip in performance. You may want to pick and choose when you decide to take it pre-workout. For example, it may be good to take it on a speed training day. This may allow you to get more high quality reps in before fatigue sets in. I would not take it on days, or during training blocks that are targeting the body’s anaerobic energy systems. This may allow you to maximize the benefits of baking soda while minimizing the potential negatives.
As with anything you may need to experiment to see if it works for you. The research is contradictory on whether baking soda has positive performance enhancing effects. The positive results seen in the literature may have been due to the placebo effect. If you are performing high intensity efforts baking soda may increase performance by 1-2%, which can be a lot in a competitive setting. However, if you are trying to run a marathon it is unlikely baking soda will help increase your performance.
. Am J Physiol. 1999 Feb;276(2 Pt 1):E255-61.
. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2004 Sep;287(3):R502-16.
. Int J Sport Nutr. 1993 Mar;3(1):2-28.
. Mc Naughton, L. R., Dalton, B., Tarr, J., Buck, D. (1997). Neutralize acid to enhance performance. Sportscience Training & Technology