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Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda)

Sodium bicarbonate is a powerful supplement that fights against the build-up of acid in your muscles, but how can you optimise its use?

Sodium bicarbonate supplementation enhances performance in high-intensity efforts lasting more than 30 seconds, including sustained time trials, climbs, and repeated sprints and attacks. [1]

To supplement for a single workout or event, you can either take a single dose of sodium bicarbonate, or take small doses over multiple days at a time. The optimal single dose of sodium bicarbonate seems to be 0.3g per kilogram of bodyweight. The active window starts around 60 minutes after you take the bicarbonate, and the window lasts 3 hours. [2]

The optimal dose for a multi-day sodium bicarbonate protocol is 0.4 - 0.5 g/kg per day, spread out in smaller doses throughout the day. Participants commonly ingest 0.1-0.2 g/kg each at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The multi-day protocol reduces the likelihood of negative side effects on the day of the target workout or event.

You can supplement your entire training regimen with sodium bicarbonate to benefit from its positive adaptations. You would do this by consuming a single dose of sodium bicarbonate (0.3g/kg) prior to every training session. [3]

The most common side effects of sodium bicarbonate are nausea, vomiting, bloating, and abdominal pain. You may also experience diarrhoea. The side effects can be mitigated by consuming the sodium bicarbonate right after a meal that is rich in carbohydrates. Do not try bicarb on a big ride or a race for the first time.

The combined effect of sodium bicarbonate with other supplements on cycling performance:

- Combined beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate is additive. [4]

- Combined creatine and sodium bicarbonate is additive.

- The effect of combined caffeine and sodium bicarbonate is unclear. Consuming caffeine and bicarbonate increases the incidence of side effects. [5]

- Combined nitrates and sodium bicarbonate is not additive.

There is a significant individual variation on the effects of sodium bicarbonate supplementation on performance, however if you don’t use it, you’re likely missing out on a 2-6% improvement in power output for acute supplementation, and even more of an improvement if you supplement before every session.

Finally, some practical advice regarding bicarb supplementation. You need to make sure you are getting the right amount, otherwise you won’t see the benefit, and always remember to take it right after a high carb meal. It’s probably worth weighing out at least your first portion so you know how much you’re getting. You probably won’t get enough through pill supplements, so you can mix bulk baking soda in water or a drink to get it down. Be prepared, as the taste is very unpleasant.

Cycling specific bicarb supplements may be more tasty, but are very expensive. Make sure to check the dosages to make sure they are right for you.

Notes

[1] The information in this article comes from the position stand by the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Both men and women benefit from sodium bicarbonate supplementation. The authors find the strongest evidence for the positive effect of sodium bicarbonate for high-intensity intervals lasting 30 seconds to 12 minutes. Mixed evidence exists above 12 minute efforts. However, it is very likely that sodium bicarbonate only aids in performance that lasts more than 12 minutes if you are fit enough to keep at an intensity high enough to produce a significant amount of acid, which is unlikely for untrained participants.

Sodium bicarbonate is safe to consume over long time periods i.e. months.

[2] 0.2 - 0.5g/kg of sodium bicarbonate supplementation has been shown to improve performance. 0.2 g/kg seems to be the minimal dose to see improvements in performance. 0.4 - 0.5 g/kg of sodium bicarbonate do not seem to elicit further improvements in performance and are correlated with a higher incidence of side effects.

There is a wide individual variation in time from ingestion to peak bicarbonate blood concentration, but we could find no evidence on the correlation between bicarb concentration and performance effects.

[3] There have only been 2 studies on this topic, and both studies suggested that this may be a result of better mitochondrial adaptation due to “less disturbance to metabolic homeostasis”. This translates loosely to ‘more time in zone 2’, or the ability to be in metabolic zone 2 at a higher power output.

Furthermore, both studies cut off bicarb supplementation before the exercise test was done, so we know that better training adaptations occurred.

[4] This meta-analysis yielded an average Cohen’s d of 0.43 for beta-alanine and sodium bicarb combined on exercise performance vs 0.18 for beta-alanine alone. Cohen’s d is a measurement for effect size, and is commonly interpreted as small (d = 0.2), medium (d = 0.5), and large (d = 0.8).

The Cohen’s d presented in the study is very likely significantly lower than the actual effect size due to many studies using exercise tests that lasted less than 30 seconds in the calculation. In fact, one of the outcomes of the meta-analysis was that beta alanine is not effective for exercise that lasts less than 30 seconds.

[5] See caffeine article for more information.