Many of my fitness clients look for natural ways to boost athletic performance without dropping a lot of cash on pre-workout supplements.
One pre-workout supplement popular among athletes is sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda.
Baking soda is a common baking ingredient, home remedy, and cleaning agent with many uses, but what about as a pre-workout?
I worked closely with our dietitian at Total Shape for a couple of weeks to investigate the potential benefits of baking soda as a pre-workout.
Here’s what we found.
- When mixed with water, sodium bicarbonate becomes an alkaline solution that neutralizes the acid.
- Sodium bicarbonate appears to draw lactic acid out of muscle cells, potentially reducing fatigue.
- Calculation of an optimal dose of baking soda as a pre-workout is 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Can Baking Soda Be Used As a Pre-workout?
Baking soda can be used as a pre-workout, and studies suggest that taking one to three hours before working out may enhance athletic performance.
Consuming baking soda with a carbohydrate meal may reduce or prevent potential gastrointestinal (GI) issues.
Before we discuss that further, let’s take a closer look at this standard household product.
What is Sodium Bicarbonate?
Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is a naturally occurring substance that is a crystalline or white powdery water-soluble solid.
When combined with water, it becomes an alkaline solution .
This alkalinity is why people have taken baking soda for years as an antacid; it neutralizes acid and alleviates heartburn.
Baking soda has various household uses: a fridge odor neutralizer, a teeth whitener, and everything in between.
In cooking, baking soda has leavening properties, because it interacts with acid like vinegar or lemon juice and causes the dough to rise by producing carbon dioxide .
How Does It Work?
Sodium bicarbonate works by neutralizing acid. Baking soda is a salt that, when added to water, breaks down into an alkaline solution that neutralizes acid .
Baking soda’s ability to neutralize acid makes it a popular home remedy for indigestion and heartburn, but what about athletic performance? Let’s take a look.
How Sodium Bicarbonate May Improve Athletic Performance
Because of its high pH level, baking soda may delay muscle fatigue, allowing you to perform at your max for longer .
During exercise, particularly high-intensity exercise, your muscles produce lactic acid and hydrogen ions, creating a more acidic environment responsible for that burning sensation you feel when working out.
Lactic acid may also lower the pH in your cells, potentially leading to fatigue .
A lower pH means higher acidity in your cells and muscles and since baking soda is basically a base, meaning it has a high pH number, it helps neutralize acidity, potentially reducing fatigue and allowing you to work out longer .
PH Balance Is Important
The pH scale runs from 0-14, with seven being neutral; the lower the pH number, the higher the acidity, and the higher the pH level, the more alkalinity. The body functions best at seven and works hard to maintain that neutral level.
Too much acidity in the body can overwork the heart, liver, and kidneys and cause muscle impairment .
Bicarbonate is a natural buffer part of your body’s acid-base balance, which maintains proper pH levels. During exercise, it helps clear acid out of muscle cells to restore optimal pH. It’s thought that bicarbonate supplementation may aid this process.
- Alina Petre, MS RD (NL)
Research supports consuming baking soda before exercise to enhance physical performance in terms of speed, power, work capacity, and time to failure .
One study of skilled tennis players showed sodium bicarbonate supplementation prevented a fatigue-induced decline in areas like forehand stroke and shot accuracy .
There are a couple of specific areas of athletic training that baking soda shows real promise in improving; interval training and muscle strength. We will look at those more closely now.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, sodium bicarbonate supplementation enhances athletic performance in muscular endurance activities like boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo, and wrestling, and high-intensity exercise like cycling, and running, swimming, and rowing .
One study of Crossfit participants shows those who supplemented with baking soda experienced increased reps, ventilatory threshold, and overall workload.
Also, “fight gone bad” performance, a type of interval training specific to Crossfit, improved 3.1% over the placebo group .
The ventilatory threshold is worth noting as it is a marker of intensity that shows in a person’s breathing when lactate begins to accumulate in the blood .
There are three levels, VT1, VT2, and VO2max, and you can think of them this way:
- VT1 - Exercise increases so does breathing.
- VT2 - Exercise hits high intensity; you are out of breath.
- VO2max - You are exhausted.
Further research supports that taking baking soda before high-intensity exercise reduces muscle fatigue, such as this study that shows cyclists had a greater time to exhaustion, 4.5 minutes longer than the placebo group .
Research is mixed when it comes to studying baking soda prior to exercise to gain muscle strength.
A study of bodybuilders shows that the participants consuming baking soda were able to perform more squats in their first three sets, while there was no benefit to the bench press repetitions .
A meta-analysis showed no significant improvements in muscle strength after sodium bicarbonate supplementation .
Researchers define muscular strength as the amount lifted or amount of force a muscle can produce .
Given this information, it may be safe to assume that sodium bicarbonate may significantly affect muscle endurance rather than strength.
“Be sure your product is fully dissolved in the water prior to ingestion. Drink slowly over a period of 20 to 30 minutes. This may not be the most palatable concoction you’ve ever ingested.”
-Molly Breslin, Heath & Wellness Coach.
Sodium bicarbonate ingestion in the recommended dose (0.3 gram per kilogram of body weight) generally seems safe for most healthy individuals with no underlying medical conditions.
Research seems to support taking baking soda on a short-term basis only, and that long-term use is not advisable .
When consumed, baking soda hits the stomach acid and produces gas which can cause bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting for some.
Taking sodium bicarbonate can also raise your blood sodium levels, which may cause high blood pressure for some people .
Sodium bicarbonate can affect how the human body absorbs certain medications, so it is always advisable to consult a healthcare professional before consuming it.
There are some definite don'ts when it comes to sodium carbonate consumption :
- Do not take more than 3 1/2 tsp. of baking soda.
- Do not use it if you are diagnosed with GERD.
- Do not take the maximum daily dosage for longer than two weeks.
- Do not take it when your stomach is overly full; this can lead to gastric rupture.
- Do not drink the baking soda solution too quickly; this can cause gas and diarrhea.
- Do not consume if you are following a low-sodium diet.
Side effects of baking soda consumption seem to be dose-dependent and vary from person to person. A higher dose will generally make for worse side effects, while some people are not affected at all.
Can Baking Soda Get Rid Of Lactic Acid?
Baking soda may get rid of the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. During exercise, the body produces lactic acid, which raises the acidity level in the cells and muscles and contributes to fatigue.
When mixed with water, baking soda creates an alkaline solution that helps neutralize the acid build-up, potentially reducing fatigue.
Can I Combine Baking Soda And Creatine?
You can combine baking soda and creatine; doing so has proven to enhance the workout performance of athletes performing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) .
Takeaway: Baking Soda as a Pre-workout
Baking soda can make a good pre-workout option; however, it is one-dimensional in increased muscular endurance.
While this is a great benefit, an all-natural pre-workout that will enhance focus, boost energy, improve endurance, and speed up muscle recovery is a well-rounded choice that I encourage my clients to invest in to get the most out of their workouts.
Pre-workouts come in a variety of flavors that make them more palatable than dissolving baking soda in water and chugging that down before a workout - a feature that can’t be understated.
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