Would you believe me if I said that baking soda is good not only for baking cakes but also for performance enhancement in runners? Probably not, but science does prove the contrary! Baking soda- also called sodium bicarbonate- does improve runner’s performance, especially in short and middle distance track and field events.

How is this possible?

Athletes who engage in this kind of events (typically lasting between 1.5s up to 10 min), need to obtain energy quite quickly; however, the speed of which this is produced may have several unwanted outcomes. Middle-distance athletes are truly at the cross-roads of metabolism (1) and in consequence, there is an increase in hydrogen ion (H+) concentration in conjunction with lactate (La) production. This augmented H+ accumulation causes a drop in intramuscular pH, which leads to fatigue and metabolic acidosis, affecting their performance. (2)

Therefore, runners may benefit from ingestion of sodium bicarbonate to enhance middle distance performance (2) as bicarbonate is the most important extracellular buffer in the body, and it claims to protect against free-floating ions (acidosis) after muscle activity. (3) This leads to a small, but significant increase in performance (1) before muscular pH falls to fatiguing levels.

However, sodium bicarbonate is used infrequently by athletes because of fears of gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort. (2)

How much should I consume and when?

The best-supported use of bicarbonate loading is for events of 1 to 7 minutes of high-intensity exercise. (4) A recent meta-analysis (5) estimated that 0.3g per kilogram of body weight of sodium bicarbonate would improve mean power when administered diluted in flavoured water approximately 1 to 2 h prior to exercise, and with a high-carbohydrate meal to optimize buffering capacity with the least potential for GI distress. (6)

For a 70Kg individual, the total dosage would be 21g (about 6 level teaspoons).

However, if you are a runner intending to load for a series of events over a day or any consecutive days, you should experiment with a lower dose for the second or subsequent races in view of a residual increase in buffering capacity from earlier doses. (4)

Is there any associated risk?

There is some risk of GI distress (bloating, flatulence, vomiting and diarrhoea) among other unpleasant subjective symptoms, but it is safe when taken in the recommended doses.

Taken together, athletes and coaches need to experiment with sodium bicarbonate in practice and low key competitions to ascertain individual water retention, body weight gains, and gastrointestinal effects, before use in major championships. Always remember to discuss your supplementation strategies with your Sports Dietitian!

 

References

  • Stellingwerff, Trent (2010) Nutrition for middle-distance running, In Asker Jeukendrup (Ed.), Sports Nutrition – from lab to kitchen (pp: 145-151) Meyer and Meyer Sports, United Kingdom.
  • Schubert, MM and Astorino, TA (2013) A systematic review of the efficacy of ergogenic aids for improving running performance. J Strength Cond Res 27(6): 1699–1707.
  • Manore, M, Meyer, N and Thompson, J (2009) Sport Nutrition for Health and Performance, Human Kinetics, Champaig, IL.
  • Burke, Louise (2007) Practical Sports Nutrition, Human Kinetics, Champaig, IL.
  • Carr, AJ, Gore, CJ, and Hopkins, WG (2011) Effects of acute alkalosis and acidosis on performance: A meta-analysis. Sports Med 41: 801–814.
  • Carr, AJ, Slater, GJ, Gore, CJ, Dawson, B, and Burke, LM (2011) Effect of sodium bicarbonate on [HCO3 2], pH, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 21: 189–194.