How Baking Soda Can Improve Athletic Performance

Help for Workouts May Be in Your Pantry

Baking soda otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) is a popular chemical compound. Sodium bicarbonate is a well-known leavening agent for bread, natural cleaning product, and also found in toothpaste. You may have a box stashed in your pantry or sitting in the refrigerator. This common baking ingredient has been widely researched and appears to also help our muscles during intense workouts.  

Did You Know?

Baking Soda for Athletic Performance
Baking Soda is a Popular Ergogenic Aid. Getty Images for ARM & HAMMER / Getty Images

Baking soda is actually a popular workout supplement.  According to the American College of Sports Medicine, sodium bicarbonate is among the leading ergogenic aids.  Athletes and individuals participating in vigorous exercise are using baking soda to help delay muscle fatigue and improve performance.

Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) supplementation is especially popular during short bouts of high-intensity exercise. Sprinters, swimmers, and rowers have realized improved performance taking baking soda prior to their competitive sport. Additional research has indicated baking soda beneficial during challenging workouts lasting 30 to 60 minutes. 

Workouts

Athlete training with speed hurdles
Baking Soda Reduces Acid in Our Muscles. Artiga Photo / Getty Images

During high-intensity workouts, our body releases chemicals into the muscle tissue. Metabolic byproducts lactate and hydrogen form in the muscle cells. While most of the byproducts are buffered, some do remain in the muscle cells and create an acidic environment. Acidity is directly related to pH levels in our body. Increased acidity alters pH levels causing our muscles to burn and feel fatigued.

According to research, taking sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) before exercise helps to flush metabolic byproducts from the muscle tissue. Published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, “NaHCO3 ingestion has been proposed to enhance performance by increasing extracellular buffering capacity.” This means taking baking soda works on a cellular level in our body creating a better chemical environment for our muscles.  

Balanced pH Levels

Hydrion Paper indicates the pH of various acidic and basic solutions. pH paper shows that pH of salt solutions can vary depending on the strenghth of their acids and bases.
Our Body Functions Best at Neutral pH Levels. Matt Meadows / Getty Images

Body functioning is optimal when our pH is balanced or neutral. Body acidity and alkalinity are measured using pH, a scale running from 0 to 14. Our body is most acidic at zero and most alkaline at 14. Several processes are ongoing in our body to maintain a neutral pH of 7. Baking soda ingestion is believed to have the ability to reduce the acidic environment caused by high-intensity exercise.

When the environment in our body becomes too acidic we can experience adverse health effects. The heart, liver, and kidneys can be overworked which can lead to chronic health conditions. Too much acidity can also contribute to muscle impairment and atrophy (wasting).

Baking soda has become well-known for balancing acidity in our body, healing, and good preventative medicine. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are appreciating the health benefits and use it often to power their workouts.   

How Does It Boost Athletic Performance?

Female athlete jumping over barbell
Baking Soda Prolongs Energy Output. Artiga Photo / Getty Images

High-intensity exercise signals our body to release hydrogen ions. Hydrogen is a metabolic waste product causing an acidic environment and decreased athletic performance. Research indicates sodium bicarbonate buffers the acids by binding to them. This binding allows for enhanced energy output during challenging workouts.

When acid levels are maintained at neutral levels, our muscles operate more efficiently. Energy metabolism is increased and studies indicate our muscles can sustain longer workouts. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, baking soda is an effective buffering agent to maintain healthy pH and improve athletic performance. 

What Does Research Say?

Women on exercise biycles
Baking Soda Reduces Hydrogen Ions in Muscle Tissue. Lori Adamski Peek / Getty Images

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology examined the effects of sodium bicarbonate ingestion during interval training. The research measured how baking soda altered the acidity (hydrogen ions) in muscle tissue during high-intensity exercise. Athletic performance was also evaluated.

Research participants included sixteen young, healthy recreationally active women. Testing protocols included muscle biopsies, blood tests, and pre and post-exercise testing to determine baseline readings. Accurate records were maintained. The women were split into two groups and tested for an 8-week trial period at 3 training sessions per week.

Group 1 was given sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) at a .2 gram dose per kilogram of body weight 90 and 30 minutes before high-intensity interval training. Group 2 was given a similar dose placebo. The interval testing was performed on a stationary bike. Participants completed 2-minute sprint intervals progressing in number over the course of testing.

Research results indicate baking soda significantly reduces hydrogen ions in the blood and at the cellular level in muscle tissue. “Furthermore, NaHCO3 ingestion decreases intracellular hydrogen ions during intense continuous and interval exercise.” Also reported was sodium bicarbonate ingestion increases muscle protein synthesis (growth).

According to research, baking soda supplementation may reduce lactic acid during interval training and improve short-term endurance performance. 

Non-Supportive Findings

Men Rowing
Research Results Can Sometimes Differ. John Davis / Getty Images

Research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism reported the effects of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) ingestion and interval training in highly trained rowers. This research also measured how baking soda altered the acidity (hydrogen ions) in muscle tissue during high-intensity exercise.

Study participants included twelve young, healthy Australian competitive rowers. Strict baseline testing was required as part of the research protocol. The rowers completed two high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions weekly and over a four-week period. The participants were split into two groups taking either sodium bicarbonate (.3 gram dose per kilogram of body weight) or placebo 90-minutes before (HIIT). Blood samples were taken throughout the study measuring bicarbonate and pH levels.

Research results indicated no additional improvement in 2000 meter rowing time with sodium bicarbonate ingestion compared to the placebo. However, a small increase in power output for participants using baking soda was detected. Because the comparable findings were trivial, researchers suggest chronic NaHCO₃ ingestion during interval training doesn’t really enhance performance that much. 

Ergogenic Aid Review

Baking Soda Ergogenic Aid Review
Baking Soda Can Enhance Athletic Perfomance. Getty Images for ARM & HAMMER / Getty Images

The American College of Sports Medicine published a review on the ergogenic effects of sodium bicarbonate. Ergogenic aids to enhance performance are widespread and baking soda supplementation is one of the most popular. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) health benefits have generated chronic research for decades.

The review was produced to cover important areas of “dosage size, timing of ingestion, and the type of exercise to benefit from the use of buffers” like baking soda.

Some great review takeaways:

  • Normal healthy functioning resting arterial blood pH measures 7.4 and typically 7.0 in human muscle. Intense workouts may drop arterial blood pH to 7.1 and decrease to 6.8 in muscle tissue.
  • The human body remains in pH balance through internal buffering functions controlling the formation and removal of hydrogen ions. Sodium bicarbonate is shown to buffer and protect the body by binding to the hydrogen ions.
  • A sport specific study on high-intensity exercise, Lindh, A.M et al., indicated improved swim time trials for competitors ingesting sodium bicarbonate 90 minutes prior to their event.
  • Improved athletic performance was observed by Bishop et al. research and during repeated swim sprint intervals for competitors using sodium bicarbonate as an ergogenic aid.
  • It is recommended coaches and athletes test their responses to buffering agents like baking soda for improved athletic performance prior to competing.
  • Sodium bicarbonate supplementation appears to not be tolerated well by approximately 10% of users.
  • There appears to be an optimal sodium bicarbonate dosing of no more than .3 grams per kilogram of body weight to avoid gastrointestinal (GI) upset.
  • Research findings may differ because sodium bicarbonate pre-exercise dose and timing are not equivalent. This would be like comparing apples to oranges.
  • It appears both short and long-term high-intensity exercise can benefit from sodium bicarbonate supplementation although continued research is warranted.

Recommended Dosage

Making baking soda paste, mixing powder with water in bowl, close-up
Optimal Doses for Baking Soda are Recommended. Russell Sadur / Getty Images

Research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggest “the best protocol for bicarbonate loading involves the dose 0.3 g/kg BM of pure NaHCO3.” This appears to be the optimal amount to balance acidity (pH) in the blood and muscle tissue.

According to the study, it’s also recommended sodium bicarbonate be taken 120 to 150 minutes before exercise and combined with a small high carbohydrate meal. This reduces the chance of unwanted gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Are There Adverse Effects?

Woman experiencing abdominal pain, mid section
Baking Soda Can Cause Stomach Upset. PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier / Getty Images

Not everyone is able to use sodium bicarbonate to enhance athletic performance. Approximately 10% of users will experience gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Some athletes have tried to divide the recommended .3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight dose throughout the day to eliminate this problem.

Other athletes have reduced the amount of sodium bicarbonate and were successful using .2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight dose prior to exercise.

Research published in the International Journal of Physiology and Sports Performance indicated sodium bicarbonate may not be beneficial for everyone. Four study participants had to discontinue testing because of severe gastrointestinal (GI) distress. It was also recommended, “individuals should determine whether they respond well to SB supplementation before a competition.”

Bonus Info

sports people stretching
Using Baking Soda for Workouts is a Personal Choice. Tara Moore / Getty Images

There is strong evidence indicating sodium bicarbonate can enhance athletic performance. “As far as the safety of the supplement, it’s as common and innocuous as ordinary baking soda, because that’s exactly what it is.” The only drawback is possible gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Also, those who need to limit their salt intake should be aware of increased sodium in baking soda.

Although the findings are great, using baking soda or any ergogenic aid to enhance athletic performance is always a personal choice. 

Sources:

American College of Sports Medicine, Abstract, Ergogenic Effects of Sodium Bicarbonate, McNaughton, Lars R. et al., 2008

International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, Sodium bicarbonate and high-intensity-cycling capacity: variability in responses, Saunders B. et al., 2014

Journal of Applied Physiology, Effects of chronic NaHCO3 ingestion during interval training on changes to muscle buffer capacity, metabolism, and short-term endurance performance, Edge J et al., 2006

International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, The effects of chronic sodium bicarbonate ingestion and interval training in highly trained rowers, Driller MW et al., 2013

International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Effect of Sodium Bicarbonate on [HCO3–], pH, and Gastrointestinal Symptoms, Amelia J. Carr et al., 2011

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