Could the Best Workout Supplement Be Sitting Unused in Your Pantry?
Before you go ahead and purchase tubs of protein and pre-workout powders – check out your pantry! Baking soda (AKA: sodium bicarbonate) might have applications outside of the bakery. Research shows it may have positive application potential in strength sports, high-intensity interval training, running, and more.
What’s the science behind this?
Understandably, you may be skeptical when you hear the bottle of baking soda that has sat in your kitchen for years could have been used as a mega-boost to your workout regimen. The American College of Sports Medicine describes sodium bicarbonate as a buffer, one that can neutralize the acid in the body.
A good workout typically comes with some discomfort. The burning and tingling sensations you may experience during a high-intensity workout can be blamed on the body making metabolic byproducts, such as lactate and hydrogen. Lactate and hydrogen can build up in the muscles and hang around there, which creates mounting acidity in the body and can contribute to discomfort and fatigue.
According to a study published in The Physiological Society, muscle fatigue is not just your body totally giving up, nor is it a mind game that one can “push through” and still reap the same results as when their muscles are not fatigued. Muscle fatigue is, in short, a decrease in the maximal force of power that the muscles can produce after the onset of sustained physical activity.
Given that these biological byproducts are acidic, adding a buffer that neutralizes acidity such as sodium bicarbonate, can help resolve the pain caused by these pesky byproducts.
The body wants to remain at a basic pH. The muscle in the human body is typically around a pH of 7.0 – which is considered a neutral pH, neither acidic nor alkaline. During exercise, the muscles may reach a pH of 6.8, becoming more acidic. Of course, the body already has multiple natural systems in place to reduce acidity. Sodium bicarbonate, in essence, just fast tracks this process and gives your body a helping hand.
Feel the burn…or don’t!
If you’ve ever done an abdominal workout after not keeping consistent for a month or two – you’re probably familiar with the good ol’ “burn” your muscles experience when they are working extra hard.
Sodium bicarbonate is most effective in exercises where the participant may be negatively affected by the “burn”; in return, affecting their ability to perform to their highest potential. Take for example, the study done on judo athletes. The study of judo performance consisted of the participants executing as many throws as possible within three specific timeframes. The nine elite judo competitors performed significantly (5.1%) more throws in the sodium bicarbonate trial than in the placebo trial.
It’s presumed that without the fatigue associated with the “burn” – repetitive, high-intensity activities like judo, can become easier with a sodium bicarbonate supplement.
To take the effects to the next level, you may consider adding creatine to your sodium bicarbonate supplement. Creatine is an amino acid located mostly in your body’s muscles, as well as in the brain. It can be ingested via supplements or certain foods, but the body also produces small amounts of creatine naturally in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. Your body takes creatine and then converts it into phosphocreatine. The phosphocreatine is stored in the muscles and is a source of energy!
So, although creatine will not improve endurance directly, it does improve power and energy output in the muscle. Combined with sodium bicarbonate, which does improve endurance by reducing byproduct build-up – you have a magical pairing!
The National Library of Medicine published a study highlighting the positive effects of mixing sodium bicarbonate and creatine. Short-term co-ingestion of sodium bicarbonate and creatine did show a significant increase in ‘mean power’ over time in the group of 55 male taekwondo athletes who participated.
Since sodium bicarbonate and creatine are both powerful and effective supplements in their own right – research is still ongoing as to exactly how much combining both creatine and sodium bicarbonate will improve performance. However, there’s no concern with combining the two.
Avoiding adverse effects
Even though sodium bicarbonate is a common ingredient found in so many things humans ingest every day – taking it in large doses can prove a tad more complicated. Most studies done on athletes were using anywhere from 200mg-500mg per kilogram of bodyweight – a level that has the potential to cause stomach discomfort and indigestion.
Taking smaller doses over a long course of time may still have great benefits and reduce the possibility of stomach upset.
In a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, eight male well-trained cyclists were loaded with sodium bicarbonate over three days. Cyclists ingested a 0.3 g·kg−1 of body mass dose, commencing 90 minutes before their test time (taken in five equal doses spread over 60 minutes). The serial sodium bicarbonate loading was an effective method for improving four-minute TT performance and provided significant benefits when compared with placebo loading.
Also, a happy finding from this study is that reports of side effects like stomach upset and indigestion were minimal – only three of the eight cyclists who participated reported mild bloating and nausea after the trial. The participants in this study were provided with a side-effect questionnaire at the same time as each blood sample was taken to keep track of adverse effects or side effects.
There were several items describing possible side effects, each with a 10-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = none to 10 = unbearable. All participants who reported either nausea or bloating rated the severity as below 5 on the Likert scale. This points to an assumption that side effects, when experienced, are minimal and manageable.
Sodium bicarbonate is still in the sodium ‘family’, so if you are someone who needs to be mindful of your sodium intake from a health perspective, you should proceed with caution and consult a doctor before adding it to your training regimen. The studies above show that for most people the side effects are very minimal, and the benefits far outweigh any side effects!
Sodium bicarbonate has been shown in multiple studies across different profiles of athletes to reduce fatigue, aid in endurance, and produce more favorable results as far as athletic output. As with any supplement, there are always considerations to take. Every person’s body is different and may react differently to new regimens.
However, given that sodium bicarbonate is essentially just baking soda, it has huge potential to be a lot more accessible to more people. Starting with a lower dose and loading over time like in the cyclist’s study may be a smart way to try out sodium bicarbonate, instead of ingesting the 200mg/kg dosage right from the start. Some pre workout supplements such as Xwerks Ignite already have it formulated into the ingredients as well.
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