Can sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) supplementation enhance sports performance?
By Hailey Davis
Edited by Marisa Michael
When thinking about sports supplements, most people don’t realize they have something really effective, safe, and cheap sitting right in their kitchen cupboard! Sodium bicarbonate, AKA baking soda, is thought to enhance sports performance by decreasing muscle fatigue. To understand how this works, let’s first get a basic understanding of how fatigue occurs when we exercise.
How does fatigue during exercise occur?
Fatigue occurs when our muscles are unable to produce enough force to do the work that we ask of them. If we think back to high school biology, we may remember that adenosine triphosphate (ATP) supplies the energy that is required for muscles to do this work. So, the body must produce enough ATP to power our muscles through our exercise.
All athletes know what fatigue feels like; that burning sensation in our legs when we run or in our arms when we do planks or push-ups. But why does this occur? Well, during the process of producing ATP for energy, a byproduct called lactate is produced. Lactate triggers a reaction in our muscles which makes them more acidic. This acidity causes that burning sensation, fatigue, and soreness which we all know too well.
High-intensity exercise, such as sprinting, heavy weight lifting, and bouldering, end up producing more lactate than low-intensity endurance exercise. So, these types of athletes are more highly impacted by muscle fatigue and may need more rest breaks while endurance athletes may be able to keep up exercise for a longer period of time without rest.
How does the body deal with acidity?
The muscles in our body work best when they are more neutral, rather than acidic. Our body can neutralize this acid using a naturally occurring substance called bicarbonate, otherwise known as a buffer. The body becomes less fatigued as the acidity goes down and is neutralized, so you can continue to exercise. But is there a faster way?
Sodium Bicarbonate may help with muscle burning and fatigue
Sodium bicarbonate is different from the body’s natural bicarbonate, but it works in essentially the same way to neutralize acidity and reduce fatigue. Many studies have addressed the question of whether or not supplementing with sodium bicarbonate can enhance sports performance by helping our natural buffers to neutralize acid faster. Let’s look at some of the highlights of from research.
What sports should I use sodium bicarbonate for?
A large body of evidence supports the use of sodium bicarbonate as an aid for short-term high-intensity exercise lasting anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes. This can include sports like sprinting, weight lifting, bouldering, and any sports that use short bursts of power. The benefits range from reduction in muscle acidity to increases in time to fatigue, speed, and peak power output.
Based on many initial studies, it was theorized that the shorter the length of exercise, the better the performance benefits would be for athletes. One reason why this is thought to be true is that low-intensity endurance sports do not result in as much lactate production, so there is less need for a buffer. The research is not clear as to if sodium bicarbonate can reduce fatigue in endurance sports. Some studies have found significant reductions in muscle acidity, increases in time to fatigue, and increases in peak power output, while others have found no evidence to support these claims.
High-intensity sports: Cycling, running, swimming, and rowing short distances at a fast pace. HIIT exercise, weight lifting, bouldering, long jump. Anything that gets your heart rate up and produces a lot of exertion. You will likely benefit from using sodium bicarbonate as a supplement.
Low-intensity endurance sports: Cycling, running, swimming, and rowing long distances. Triathlon, soccer, basketball, lacrosse. Any sport that requires you to pace yourself to last for a long event. You may or may not benefit from using sodium bicarbonate as a supplement.
How much sodium bicarbonate should I take?
Most studies have recorded significant improvements in performance when supplementing with a dosage of 0.3 grams/kilogram of body weight taken as a one-time dose 60-90 minutes prior to exercise. Here is a rough estimate to understand what that equates to for your body weight:
|Body Weight||Amount of Baking Soda to Take|
|100 lb||3.5 tsp|
|110 lb||3.75 tsp|
|120 lb||4 tsp|
|130 lb||4.5 tsp|
|140 lb||4.75 tsp|
|150 lb||5 tsp|
|160 lb||5.5 tsp|
|170 lb||5.75 tsp|
|180 lb||6 tsp|
|190 lb||6.5 tsp|
|200 lb||6.75 tsp|
Note: You can adjust accordingly if your weight isn’t listed above.
You’ll want to mix your dose from the list above with at least 16 oz. of water when taking this as a supplement. Sip it slowly over a couple of hours before exercising. If you drink it too fast, you may have gastrointestinal issues.
Some research has investigated using a loading period prior to exercise. In other words, you would take some amount of sodium bicarbonate daily for multiple days prior to an event to “load up your system.” One study, which used a loading period of 5-days, saw significant improvements in performance when supplementing with 0.5 grams/kilogram of body weight but not when using 0.3 grams/kilogram of body weight. Another study, which used a loading period of 8-weeks, saw no improvement in performance. Based on these results, it is safe to say that a loading period may not be necessary, could increase the amount of work required to see benefits, and may not be beneficial at all.
Many athletes experience abdominal symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea when supplementing with sodium bicarbonate. If you plan to give it a try, it may be best to experiment during your training period rather than just before an important sporting event or competition to ensure that you are not in any discomfort during your event and to make sure that the supplement actually benefits you.
Overall Recommendations for sodium bicarbonate
Plenty of research has shown sodium bicarbonate to be an effective supplement for enhancing athletic performance in high-intensity short-term sports. However, it may also be beneficial for endurance sports. Always test out new supplements prior to sporting events in order to weigh the pros and cons for yourself beforehand.
Mix the amount of baking soda from the list above with at least 16 oz. of water. Start drinking somewhere around 2-3 hours before exercise, with enough time to finish the drink within 1-1.5 hours prior to exercise.
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~Disclaimer: This post is general information and should not be used as medical advice. Always seek medical care from a qualified professional before making any changes to your diet, medication, supplements, hydration, etc.
Mc Naughton, L. R., Dalton, B., Tarr, J., Buck, D. Neutralize acid to enhance performance. Sportscience Training & Technology. 1997. http://www.sportsci.org/traintech/buffer/lrm.htm.
Calvo JL et al. Effect of sodium bicarbonate contribution on energy metabolism during exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2021;18:11. DOI: 10.1186/s12970-021-00410-y.
Mcnaughton L, Siegler J, Midgley A. Ergogenic effects of sodium bicarbonate. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2008;7(4):230-236. DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31817ef530.