The nausea and dizziness you experience after an intense bout of sprinting or weightlifting is an indication that the pH of your blood has become more acidic. Suddenly, you have to ease up on your workout because you feel like you are going to throw up. Sodium bicarbonate helps keep the pH of your blood from becoming too acidic, thus enabling you to continue with a very intense session that will improve your acute and long-term performance.
The pH of blood is a measure of the net balance of acid ions compared to basic ions; an ion is a charged atom or molecule. Blood pH constantly fluctuates because it depends on many factors including what you eat, what you drink, your activity level, your breathing rate and the health of your kidneys. Fluctuations occur within a very small range, generally between a pH of 7.35 and 7.45. Note distilled water and human blood are neutral; they are neither acidic or basic. Egg whites and baking soda have a pH of 8 and 9, while black coffee and urine have a pH of 5; baking soda is basic and urine is acidic. Though blood plasma has been shown to go as low as 6.8, at this level negative side effects occur including nausea, headaches, dizziness and extreme muscle discomfort. Sodium bicarbonate helps buffer or neutralize the positive ions in your blood and keeps your pH within a more functional, healthy range.
The acid-base balance in your blood is controlled by the chemical reactions in your blood, the capacity of your respiratory system to remove carbon dioxide, and the ability of your kidneys to excrete ammonia and positive hydrogen ions into your urine. The most important buffering system is the chemical reaction between the weak acid called carbonic acid and the salt of carbonic acid called sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is more commonly known as baking soda. The limiting factor for buffering lactic acid buildup in your muscles is the availability of sodium bicarbonate. Supplementing with sodium bicarbonate or baking soda increases the pH of the fluid outside your cells, enabling your muscle cells to more readily remove lactic acid.
Sodium bicarbonate is available in powder or capsule form. Chronic supplementation of sodium bicarbonate greatly increases your lactate threshold, or the point just before the pH of your blood becomes more acidic; it is used primarily for high intensity training. Chronic loading entails you consume 0.4g of sodium bicarbonate per kilogram of your body weight three days per week for eight weeks. If you have several races or matches in one day, serial loading buffers your blood for as long as 24 hours. Consume 0.3 to 0.5 g of sodium bicarbonate per kilogram of body weight per day; split this into three to four small doses for three to five days up to the day before your competition. Use sodium bicarbonate before a highly intense race or event such as sprinting or weightlifting. Consume 0.3 g of sodium bicarbonate per kilogram of body weight, split between three to four doses and taken 60 to 90 minutes before your event, according to a 2008 article by Scott Riewald, Ph.D., published in the “Strength and Conditioning Journal.”
Conduct a trial period of sodium bicarbonate supplementation. Do not start experimenting with baking soda within the month leading up to an important race or competition. Sodium bicarbonate can cause gastrointestinal problems including bloating, nausea and cramps.
- “Exercise Physiology, Energy, Nutrition & Human Performance”; William McArdle, Frank Katch and Victor Katch; 2007
- “Strength and Conditioning Journal”; Using Supplementation Legally to Enhance Performance; Scott Riewald, Ph.D.; October 2008