Sodium Bicarbonate: A Helpful Understanding for the Endurance Athlete

June 4, 2024

Let’s talk about sodium bicarbonate, gain an understanding of what it is and outline any advantages for the endurance athlete. You may have heard of sodium bicarb through Maurten ads, The Feed, or in general talk amongst the endurance community. At this point, the use of sodium bicarb is less widely known, less understood and not as highly used amongst the endurance athlete community.

My intent with this article is not to encourage or discourage the use of sodium bicarbonate, but rather to inform. There is so much information out there regarding nutrition products, and depending on where you find it, not all of it is true or may be misleading. With any product you consider taking, it is essential to be informed and understand how this product is beneficial, at what minimum effective dose, the timing at which you should consume the product, and what the long-term risks are, if any.

Sodium bicarbonate is a salt, has been widely studied for many years, and has been used as an ergogenic aid to enhance performance and potentially improve training adaptations. How sodium bicarbonate creates an ergogenic effect is not certain, but research shows there is an improved pH control at the cellular level in the muscle which ultimately provides for the ability to sustain higher exercise demands.1,2,3

Sodium bicarbonate has been shown to improve performance across the board in a variety of sports, including muscular endurance resistance training, combat sports, high-intensity cycling, running, swimming, and rowing. As an endurance athlete, it is important to understand the ergogenic effects are mostly seen for exercise at high intensity that lasts between 30 seconds and 12 minutes.

Sodium bicarbonate has been studied as an ergogenic aid for the endurance athlete with varying results and requires further study. Some studies show no significant benefits for the endurance athlete in taking sodium bicarbonate.4,5,6 However, other studies show just the opposite.

For example, sodium bicarbonate has been shown to increase average power output in sixty minutes of cycling to fatigue. Randomly chosen pairs of subjects were asked to complete as much work as possible cycling for60 minutes in a competitive situation. Significantly more work was completed in those who took the ergogenic aid. This study suggests sodium bicarbonate may be used to help delay the onset of fatigue.7

In another study, males ran to exhaustion at a speed corresponding to their threshold. Those who took sodium bicarbonate saw a significant increase in time to exhaustion, by 17%.8 Again, this demonstrates positive effects for the endurance athlete.

While sodium bicarbonate is mostly seen as beneficial for exercise lasting from 30 seconds to 12 minutes, for endurance events that include sprints throughout the event or hard sprint finishes, sodium bicarbonate has also been shown to have a positive effect. In one study, sodium bicarbonate supplementation was provided prior-to, and during, a three-hour simulated cycling race with a 90 second all-out finish. Supplementation with sodium bicarbonate improved short all-out exercise performance at the end of the event.9

There is also research that shows the repeated use of sodium bicarbonate supplementation (0.2 to 0.4 g/kg ingested 90 to 60 min before every exercise session for 6 to 8 weeks) may improve long-term adaptations to exercise. Specifically, a delay in time to fatigue and improved peak power.10 Although, the research here is minimal and more is needed.

In terms of dosage, from the position stand provided by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, “for single-dose supplementation,0.2 g/kg of sodium bicarbonate seems to be the minimum dose required to experience improvements in exercise performance. The optimal dose of sodium bicarbonate for ergogenic effects seems to be 0.3 g/kg. Higher doses (e.g., 0.4or 0.5 g/kg) may not be required in single-dose supplementation protocols, because they do not provide additional benefits (compared with 0.3 g/kg) and are associated with a higher incidence and severity of adverse side-effects. The recommended timing of sodium bicarbonate ingestion is between 60 and 180min before exercise or competition.”10 There are also multi-day recommendations to help reduce side effects on the day of competition.

When we consider long term risks or side effects of sodium bicarbonate, the most common side effects include GI discomfort like bloating, stomachache, diarrhea, and nausea. The timing of ingestion can help to reduce these symptoms and reduce any potential negative side effects to performance. Specifically, lower gastrointestinal discomfort is seen in exercise after 180min of supplementation.12 Also, taking sodium bicarbonate with a high carb meal, 1.5 g of carb/kg body weight, has been shown to reduce GI symptoms,11 which is more good news for us as endurance athletes. On top of this, nutrition products like Maurten, are using new techniques in delivery to help reduce negative side effects.

For long term risks, taking extra sodium on a regular basis can increase the risk for high blood pressure and chronic disease over time. Always be mindful of your diet and how much sodium you take in from what you eat compared to the nutrition guidelines. As always, it is wise to consult with your doctor before taking anything new, especially if you have a pre-existing condition like high blood pressure.

 

 

1 BishopD, Edge J, Davis C, Goodman C. Induced metabolic alkalosis affects musclemetabolism and repeated-sprint ability. Med Sci SportsExerc. 2004;36(5):807–813. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000126392.20025.17.

2BouissouP, Defer G, Guezennec CY, Estrade PY, Serrurier B. Metabolic and bloodcatecholamine responses to exercise during alkalosis. Med Sci SportsExerc. 1988;20(3):228–232. doi: 10.1249/00005768-198806000-00003.

3Sutton JR, Jones NL, Toews CJ. Effect of pH on muscle glycolysisduring exercise. Clin Sci. 1981;61(3):331–338.doi: 10.1042/cs0610331.

 4Freis T, Hecksteden A, Such U, Meyer T. Effectof sodium bicarbonate on prolonged running performance: A randomized,double-blind, cross-over study. PLoS One. 2017;12(8):e0182158.doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182158.

5Kowalchuk JM, Heigenhauser GJ, Jones NL. Effect of pH on metabolicand cardiorespiratory responses during progressive exercise. J ApplPhysiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol. 1984;57(5):1558–1563.

6Northgraves MJ, Peart DJ, Jordan CA, Vince RV. Effect of lactatesupplementation and sodium bicarbonate on 40-km cycling time trialperformance. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(1):273–280.doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182986a4c.

7McNaughton L, Dalton B, Palmer G. Sodium bicarbonate can be usedas an ergogenic aid in high-intensity, competitive cycle ergometry of 1 hduration. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1999 Jun;80(1):64-9. doi:10.1007/s004210050559. PMID: 10367725.

8George KP, MacLaren DP. The effect of induced alkalosis andacidosis on endurance running at an intensity corresponding to 4 mM bloodlactate. Ergonomics. 1988 Nov;31(11):1639-45. doi: 10.1080/00140138808966813.PMID: 3229410.

9Dalle S, Koppo K, Hespel P. Sodium bicarbonate improves sprintperformance in endurance cycling. J Sci Med Sport. 2021 Mar;24(3):301-306. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2020.09.011. Epub 2020 Sep 25. PMID: 34756350.

10Grgic J, Pedisic Z, Saunders B, Artioli GG, Schoenfeld BJ, McKennaMJ, Bishop DJ, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Kalman DS, Arent SM, VanDusseldorp TA,Lopez HL, Ziegenfuss TN, Burke LM, Antonio J, Campbell BI. InternationalSociety of Sports Nutrition position stand: sodium bicarbonate and exerciseperformance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Sep 9;18(1):61. doi:10.1186/s12970-021-00458-w. PMID: 34503527; PMCID: PMC8427947.

11Carr AJ, Slater GJ, Gore CJ, Dawson B, Burke LM. Effect of sodiumbicarbonate on [HCO3-], pH, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Int J SportNutr Exerc Metab. 2011;21(3):189–194. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.21.3.189.

12Siegler JC, Marshall PW, Bray J, Towlson C. Sodium bicarbonatesupplementation and ingestion timing: does it matter? J Strength CondRes. 2012;26(7):1953–1958. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182392960. 

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