SHOULD YOU BE USING SODIUM BICARBONATE?
Have your muscles ever had that burning sensation after too many squat jumps or sprints? We commonly think of this burning as being from ‘lactic acid’ build up, and although this isn’t 100% accurate (H+ or hydrogen ions are the real culprit) the principle of acidic changes effecting the muscles is correct.
Sodium bicarbonate (or its chemical name NaHCO3 for short) is basically a ‘buffer’ that reacts with acids to neutralise them and raise the pH of your blood, and has been shown to improve repeated and intermittent sprint performance in athletes. When extracellular fluid around muscle cells becomes too acidic, it can interfere with muscle function and eventually we have to stop or slow down whatever exercise we’re doing. Bicarbonate helps to resist these acidic changes. An easy way to think of it is: bicarbonate can absorb and neutralise some of the acidic by-products that are created from high intensity exercise.
While using sodium bicarbonate every session may be a little far out of the average gym goers scope, if you’ve got a big upcoming event like a grand final or race meet, the Australian Institute of Sport lists bicarbonate as a Group A Performance Supplement (along with caffeine, creatine, and beetroot juice), meaning that there is a high level of evidence for the effectiveness of the supplement, and that they are permitted for use in competition.
Current recommendations for this supplement are to load up on it prior to exercise. The amount to take is strongly based around developing an individual loading protocol which minimises the potential side effects. Studies recommend beginning with 0.2-0.4 grams per kg of bodyweight and assessing and adjusting dosage from there. For example if you weigh 75kg your ideal dose is between 15-30g of NaHCO3.
It is also suggested to take it in flavoured water or capsules as bicarbonate isn’t the most awesome tasting thing in the world. We also recommend you take it with a light snack and plenty of water which will help prevent or reduce any potential side effects which we talk about below.
Usually the best time to take bicarbonate is sometime between 60-120 minutes prior to exercise which allows it to enter the bloodstream where it can exert its positive effects. It is worth mentioning again, that there is a large individual variation in how much time it takes for bicarbonate levels to peak in the blood – even more so than most supplements. It’s a must to test out your individual timing and tolerance levels before using it on game day!
BE CAREFUL with the dosage – some people might not have a problem using this supplement, but if you don't personally respond well or if you overdo the dosage chances are you can experience significant gastrointestinal discomfort - that’s French for you may spew from one end... or the other... or both. 😅
(We highly recommend starting at the lower end of the recommended dosage and working your way up to determine ideal dose!).
Baking soda is basically another name for bicarbonate of soda that we use in cooking, so this compound is generally pretty safe apart from a few minor side effects revolving around upset stomach, and you likely already have it in your pantry at home.
There's a bit of a trade off if you’re going to try out this supp: baking soda is cheap to buy from any supermarket, but as we mentioned tastes horrible – capsules will be easier to get down, but will cost you a little more.