Supplements ~ Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium Bicarbonate, Bicarbonate of Soda, or plain old Baking Soda, to our mums, is potentially one of the best value for money ergogenic aids on the market.  It's cheap, it's plentiful, it's legal and it works.  Read on to see if it's for you.

What is is it?
Sodium Bicarbonate is basically an alkalising agent that reduces, or buffers to use the correct term, the acidity of your blood.  If you've been following my previous factsheets, especially the ones on Lactic Acid, you'll know why this is important. 

What does it do?
During intense exercise, at or above your lactic threshold, a process called metabolic acidosis occurs.  You know this is happening when your legs start to hurt and you feel the dreaded burn. 

Physiologically speaking, your blood ph begins to drop and you begin to suffer from reduced performance and increased fatigue.  Neither of which on their own is good; when they happen at the same time it's bad, very bad. 

Sodium Bicarbonate is good because it:

deposits itself in the blood to alkalise the acid
facilitates lactate dissipation
increases glycotic energy production
delays decreased muscle contractile force
can increase overall plasma volume
increases blood concentrations of bicarbonate

How does it do it?
When exercising intensively we use the anaerobic glycotic energy system and the lactic system.  Check out the Anaerobic Capacity factsheet for a detailed description. 

For each lactate molecule produced a hydrogen ion is created. 

It's the presence of the hydrogen ion that makes the muscles acidic, which slows down enzyme activity, which prevents glucose breakdown, which stops energy being produced, which slows you down, which (as if you didn't know) isn't good. 

When you sprint for the line and die 20 yards before it, that's when what I've just described has happened.

As an aside, acidic muscles increase irritation of the nerve endings which is why we feel pain and burn.  This is where the magic of Sodium Bicarbonate comes in.

So, to recap, glycolysis generates hydrogen ions and pyruvic acid in the working muscles.  This makes the muscular cells acidic, which interferes with their power producing capabilities. 

The good old mitochondria we took all winter to carefully nurture and build up are now being used to sweep up acid from the muscles and take it to in to the blood stream.  Not their primary purpose; which means they can't be used to make us go faster.

Again, without getting too technical; Sodium Bicarbonate can't penetrate the muscle itself, it has to wait for the acid to come to where it's stalking; in the blood stream. 

When the "acid carrying mitochondria" enter the blood stream from the muscle, the acid is "introduced" to the Sodium Bicarbonate and the alkalising properties neutralise the acid and allow the "clean" mitochondria to be freed up and dive back in to the muscles to get another payload of acid.  Thereby speeding up the process of lactic flushing. 

That's why it's so important to develop your mitochondria during your winter base mileage because that's when you develop the capabilities to help you go super fast in the summer.  No slow riding early on, no fast riding when you need it most.

How can it help me?
As we've seen, intense, short-burst, energy production increases the acidity inside the muscle cells and very soon after, does the same to the blood.  If we could speedily process acidity regulation within the muscle cells and delay fatigue we could exercise intensely for longer. 

Sodium Bicarbonate supplementation allows the acid produced within the muscle cells to be processed when it enters the bloodstream, thus more quickly reducing the level of acidity within the muscle cells themselves.

The normal pH of the muscle cell is 7.1.  If, due to intense exercise, metabolic acidosis takes place, the build up of acidity continues and pH is reduced to around 6.5. 

It's around this point that muscle contraction is impaired and the low pH stimulates the free nerve endings in the muscle resulting in the perception of burning pain!  This point is referred to as the lactic threshold, anaerobic threshold or the onset of blood lactate accumulation.  If you've done one of our wVO2max tests you'll know exactly what I mean and how it feels.

Sodium Bicarbonate supplementation can help keep blood pH low, thereby allowing the mitochondria to drag more hydrogen ions, more quickly from the muscle allowing more intervals or longer duration to the onset of fatigue.  All in all a good thing.

What is the dosage required?
The minimum dosage that's found to be effective is 0.3 gms per kilogramme of bodyweight.  More isn't necessarily better, as the risk of gastric distress increases significantly as dosage heads towards 0.5g per kilogramme. 

As each individuals reaction to supplementation is different for a given dosage, it's best to start at the lower end of the dosage scale.  One way to ease dosage ingestion is to mix the powder into a pint of water and sip it over thirty minutes to an hour before intense exercise. 

Body Weight kg Dosage min

Dosage max

55

16.5g

27.5g

60

18.0g

30.0g

65

19.5g

32.5g

70

21.0g

35.0g

75

22.5g

37.5g

80

24.0g

40.0g

85

25.5g

42.5g

Sodium Bicarbonate takes around sixty to ninety minutes to kick in.  So obviously you need to take it in adequate time to coincide with your expected high intensity muscle contractions.  Experiment with lead times and dosages to make sure you get it right.  What works for your mate won't necessarily work for you.

What should I be aware of?
To put it politely, gastric distress, nausea and or bloating.  Other ways to describe it are; the trotts, delhi belly, the runs and various others I'm sure are springing to mind. 

Whatever it is, it isn't always nice and anyway you should always test out any supplementation in recovery weeks.  Although I've never suffered any of these myself and haven't heard of anyone who has, you don't want to be the first.  The risk is always there, so go gently and work up to the stated dose.

Never, ever, ever try a new supplement or ergogenic aid on the morning of a key race.  Ever.  I've seen it done more times than you would imagine, normally with a new, previously untried energy drink.  It's never good and it normally means there's one less person to beat!

Stick to the dosage recommended and build up to it over two or three test sessions at differing intensities.  What works on the way home from work might not necessarily work when screaming in a ten mile time-trial! 

Take Note:
This article is neither an endorsement or a condemnation of the subject of this article or any other supplement use.  It is here to allow the reader to draw their own informed conclusion. 

Do your research and if any doubt consult a physician before undertaking any supplement regimen.  Never take more than the stated dose and never mix any drug or supplement with alcohol.  Always check that you are not contravening any sporting code, ethics or permitted levels for your sport before undertaking any supplementation.

Where can I get some?
Checkers, Stampers or Spar ~ take your pick.  Don't be duped by "pure" stuff from body building suppliers!  It should be about 75 pence.