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Beating “the burn” with baking soda

Can you believe that something as simple as baking soda may boost performance? While this fact has been known for a while, researchers didn’t know that people’s responses to different doses can vary quite a bit

Study under review: Dose-Response of Sodium Bicarbonate Ingestion Highlights Individuality in Time Course of Blood Analyte Responses

Introduction

Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃)—otherwise known as baking soda—is a common ergogenic supplement used by athletes and individuals participating in vigorous exercise to delay the onset of muscular fatigue and maintain performance. During bouts of high-intensity exercise, metabolic byproducts, including hydrogen and lactate, are formed in muscle tissue. While most of these molecules are buffered, a small amount remains in the cell, creating an acidic environment. This is believed to be one of the primary mechanisms responsible for the development of muscular fatigue.

As depicted in Figure 1, taking bicarbonate before a bout of exercise has been shown to effectively flush metabolic byproducts out of the muscle tissue by increasing extracellular acid-buffering capacity, ultimately delaying the onset of muscular fatigue. Several dosing strategies have been studied and implemented among athletes, but 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight is the most common dose to reap the benefits, when ingested 60-90 minutes prior to exercise.

Figure 1: The bicarbonate buffer system

These doses typically increase blood bicarbonate levels by about 20-25% or about 5-6 mmol/L from baseline. Time to peak blood concentrations vary depending on what the individual has eaten, rate of gastric emptying, and other factors. This dosing strategy has been shown to adequately enhance buffering capacity, which in turn can help you train harder as a result of the delayed onset of metabolic acidosis—the “burn”—which characterizes certain forms of intense exercise. Dosages of 0.5 grams per kilogram[1] of body mass have been shown to be slightly more effective than the 0.2-0.3 grams per kilogram range, but intake at this level also tends to induce gastrointestinal discomfort, including stomach bloating, nausea, and diarrhea.

Sodium bicarbonate can be taken all at once, or spread out into separate doses throughout the day, and taken with meals. Dosing strategies are well-documented, but individual variability and the dose-response relationship between bicarbonate and individualized biochemistry hasn’t been addressed in the literature. The purpose of the present study is to investigate bicarbonate, pH, and sodium responses to three different doses of NaHCO₃ in order to determine the time course of changes and the inter-individual variability in responses.

Sodium bicarbonate has been shown to increase the acid-buffering capacity of muscle tissue, delaying the muscle “burn” felt during intense exercise. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the individual variability in biochemical responses to three different doses of bicarbonate, as well as their impact on pH, base and sodium.

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Other Articles in Issue #19 (May 2016)