Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is not just used in baking. Doctors sometimes prescribe it to reduce heartburn and indigestion because it acts as an antacid in your body. The same antacid properties it has on your digestion, it may also have on your muscles during exercise, which can potentially prevent fatigue and enhance your athletic performance. Results are mixed, however, and taking sodium bicarbonate as an ergogenic aid -- a substance that positively influences your performance -- may cause potential side effects.
Lactic Acid During Exercise
During intense exercise, the carbohydrates you’ve eaten get converted from glucose to pyruvate, which is broken down into energy when you have enough oxygen available. If you don’t have enough oxygen available, pyruvate turns into lactate. Lactate enables you to continue to metabolize glucose, but it also causes acidity in your muscle cells. When lactic acid accumulates in your muscles, your muscles can’t contract as efficiently and you become fatigued.
Tone Down the Acid
To prevent muscular fatigue from occurring due to lactic acid, your body has bicarbonate, proteins and phosphate to counterbalance the acid. Sodium bicarbonate acts as a buffering agent by bringing acid out of your working muscles and into your blood. This allows you to produce more energy and keep your muscles contracting at a rapid rate, theoretically improving your athletic performance.
A report published in 2010 in “Food and Nutrition Sciences” states that athletes who participate in events taking one to seven minutes, such as 100- to 400-meter swimming and 400- to 1,500-meter running, benefit most from sodium bicarbonate. In regard to resistance training, a study published in 2014 in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” demonstrated a marked improvement in performing squats and bench presses to exhaustion when participants took baking soda compared to a placebo. The 2010 report cautions not all studies show positive results and may depend upon the duration, intensity, type of exercise and dosage used. More research is needed in this area.
Dosage and Side Effects
The recommended dose of sodium bicarbonate is 140 milligrams per pound of body weight one to two hours before a high-intensity exercise of short duration. Drink at least a liter of water with the ergogenic aid. You may experience stomach cramps, gas, nausea and vomiting. These gastrointestinal problems may be reduced or eliminated by taking sodium bicarbonate several days in a row rather than one time directly before the athletic event. More severe side effects include irregular heartbeats, irritability, muscle spasms and gastric ruptures.
A teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate contains 1,259 milligrams of sodium. The adequate intake for sodium is set at 1,500 milligrams. A high-sodium diet can increase your blood pressure and put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. The Institute of Medicine states competitive athletes who sweat a lot have increased sodium needs, but sodium intake naturally rises with the extra calories athletes consume. Using sodium bicarbonate as an ergogenic aid can still put you well above the amount of sodium you require. Speak with your doctor or a sports nutritionist to best determine the right amount of salt for you.
- MedlinePlus: Sodium Bicarbonate
- Scientific American: Why Does Lactic Acid Build Up in Muslces? And Why Does It Cause Muslce Soreness?
- Sport Science: Neutralize Acid to Enhance Performance
- Food and Nutrition Sciences: A Potent Ergogenic Aid?
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Effect of Sodium Bicarbonate Ingestion on Back Squat and Bench Press Exercise to Failure
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Leavening Agents, Baking Soda
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes: Elements
- National Academies Press: Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride and Sulfate