Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) is a molecule that acts as a buffering agent against acidity in the human body, and appears to enhance physical performance in elite and novice athletes. It also may have health benefits and intestinal side effects.
Sodium Bicarbonate is most often used for
Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is a supplement that provides dietary bicarbonate, which can increase serum levels of bicarbonate (normally produced by the kidneys) and subsequently buffer acid production in the body. The main mechanism of action of sodium bicarbonate is in negating the effects of acidosis. It provides benefits both in situations of chronic mild acidosis, commonly seen in metabolic ailments or during aging as kidney function slowly declines, and in exercise-induced acidosis.
In athletes, the standard doses of sodium bicarbonate supplementation (200-300 mg/kg) reliably benefits performance when performance on the exercise is heavily influenced by metabolic acidosis, aka “the burn.” Brief high-intensity exercise performance, such as a single-bout of a 30-second Wingate test, does not benefit from supplementation with sodium bicarbonate, but exercise involving multiple 30-second maximal efforts does, especially if short rest intervals are used between efforts. Supplementation with sodium bicarbonate is also unlikely to enhance performance during low-intensity long-duration exercise, although the evidence is mixed.
Overall, supplementation with sodium bicarbonate can enhance performance in high-intensity single- and multiple-bout exercise that last between about 30 seconds and 12 minutes.
Benefits of sodium bicarbonate can be observed with a single dose taken 60-150 minutes before exercise, but supplementation should be approached cautiously as it can cause gastrointestinal side effects if too much is taken at once or, if it’s consumed too rapidly.
Additionally, 5 g of sodium bicarbonate taken daily appears to be somewhat effective in reducing acidosis induced by the diet or the aging process (although using potassium bicarbonate appears to be better), and therefore it may reduce the rate of bone loss over time in susceptible populations.
There are mechanisms in place for sodium bicarbonate to be a fat-burning agent (it increases ketone production and lipolysis and causes a minor increase in metabolic rate), but these have not yet been linked to actual weight loss in trials.
- Baking Soda
Supplemental sodium bicarbonate can be baking soda bought from the grocery store; they are the same molecule, so store-bought baking soda will work.
When used before exercise, supplemental dosages of sodium bicarbonate are in the 200–300 mg/kg range. While 200 mg/kg seems to produce an ergogenic effect in most people, 300 mg/kg appears to be the optimal dose. Doses of 400–500 mg/kg are also ergogenic when taken before exercise, but not necessarily more than lower doses. These higher doses also tend to be associated with a higher degree of intestinal side effects.
If taking sodium bicarbonate acutely for exercise, a dose can be taken 60-150 minutes before anaerobic activities associated with metabolic acidosis (i.e., “the burn”) for maximum benefit.
In studies that used a multiple day (3 to 7 days) supplementation protocol, an overall sodium bicarbondate dose of 500 mg/kg divided into four smaller doses taken throughout the day was more effective than an overall dose 300 mg/kg.
Some health effects (increase in metabolic rate or attenuation of metabolic acidosis) can be achieved at more reasonable doses, such as 5-10 g, and may be more practical for nonathletes.
Additionally, as 27.3% of sodium bicarbonate's weight is due to sodium, every 100 mg/kg confers about 27 mg/kg sodium to the diet; this needs to be accounted for, and severely limits usage by persons with salt-sensitive hypertension.
As the doses are measured in reference to body weight, obesity may result in a falsely high oral dose. If you are not within a normal or overweight BMI range, estimate your oral dose based on your “ideal weight” instead.
The means of consuming bicarbonate is important, as excessively high doses or rapid ingestion can cause gastric upset due to a reaction between bicarbonate and stomach acid. Bicarbonate should be sipped slowly over a period of a few minutes with a moderate amount of water (500 mL), and the first time bicarbonate is used a half-dose should be ingested to assess tolerance.
Rapidly ingesting the drink, or taking too much, is likely to induce stomach pain and nausea within an hour followed by increased diarrhea and flatulence; sticking to 200 mg/kg may alleviate the risk of these side effects.
Independent of the dose taken, caution should be exercised with the manner by which sodium bicarbonate is ingested, so as to minimize intestinal and gastric side effects; these side effects occur with rapid or excessive consumption of bicarbonate, and include nausea and diarrhea.
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