Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) otherwise known as NaHCO₃, is a popular chemical compound. It is a salt composed of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions. Sodium bicarbonate is a white solid that is crystalline but often appears as a fine powder. It is found dissolved in many mineral springs.
Baking soda is a low-cost natural product that can be found in most supermarkets.
How does sodium bicarbonate work
To understand how baking soda works, it is helpful to first understand the concept of pH.
How pH affects athletic performance
In chemistry, pH is a scale used to grade how acidic or alkaline (basic) a solution is.
A pH of 7.0 is considered neutral. Anything lower than 7.0 is acidic and anything above that is alkaline.
In a normally functioning, resting human being, arterial blood pH is approximately 7.4, slightly alkalotic, and usually around 7.0 in the muscle cells. You function best when your acid-alkaline balance remains close to this target, which is why your body has various ways to maintain these levels.
High-intensity exercise, also known as anaerobic exercise can disrupt this balance.
During anaerobic exercise, your body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the available supply. As a result, your muscles cannot rely on oxygen to produce energy. Instead, they must switch to a different pathway. The anaerobic pathway.
Creating energy through the anaerobic pathway produces lactic acid. Too much lactic acid decreases your muscle cells’ pH level to below the optimal 7.0.
How sodium bicarbonate helps maintain pH
Sodium bicarbonate has an alkaline pH of 8.4 and can therefore raise your blood pH slightly. Higher blood pH allows acid to move from muscle cells into the bloodstream, returning their pH to 7.0. This enables the muscles to continue contracting and producing energy.
Scientists believe this is the primary way that sodium bicarbonate can help you exercise harder, faster or for longer
Sodium bicarbonate and athletic performance
In short endurance events lasting approximately seven minutes or less, one of the greatest challenges faced by an athlete is the build-up of acidity related to acid production by the muscles (lactic acid). As the blood and fluids surrounding the muscle cells become more acidic, their ability to function effectively is greatly reduced.
Since the 1940s, sports scientists have been looking at baking soda, as a way of counteracting this acidity.
Baking soda has been shown to reduce blood and muscle acidity by neutralising hydrogen ions associated very high intensity efforts. A review of 29 studies examined the time to exhaustion in short duration events and found an average 27 percent increase in exercise duration with baking soda compared to placebo.
Although most studies investigating the effectiveness of supplementing with baking soda for enhancing athletic performance have mainly been focused on physical activity lasting approximately seven minutes or less, there have been numerous studies focusing on more prolonged continuous exercise with similar outcomes.
How much to supplement
If you compete in short races or conduct intensive interval training at or above your aerobic capacity, supplemental dosages of 200-300mg/kg (about 4 or 5 teaspoons) mixed into about 500ml of water have shown to be beneficial when used before exercise. Baking soda should be sipped over a few minutes approximately 60 minutes prior to the race or workout.
Other health benefits of supplementing with baking soda include:
- Ease stomach and digestive troubles;
- Reduce heartburn;
- Boost kidney health;
- Sunburn remedy;
- Toothpaste and teeth whitener;
- Relief from insect bites;
- Help to clear/relieve cold and flu symptoms.
Although consuming baking soda orally is safe, don’t exceed the recommended dosage. Too much baking soda can upset the body’s acid-base balance leading to nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Another reason not to overdo your consumption of baking soda is that it can increase potassium excretion which could lead to a potassium deficiency.
Baking soda is high in sodium, approximately 1,200 milligrams in one teaspoon. So higher doses may not safe, especially if you have elevated blood pressure.
You should always consult with your doctor prior to using a new supplement, especially if you are on medication.
For such a low-cost, this is one really affordable natural supplement that could help enhance an athlete’s physical performance, especially in events lasting seven minutes or less.
In addition, baking soda has a variety of other health benefits. For example, it can help treat heartburn, ease digestive issues and even whiten your teeth.