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A Deep Dive on Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, has been used by cyclists and other athletes for many years due to its potential to improve performance in high-intensity events. It's often used as a performance-enhancing supplement because it can help buffer the effects of lactic acid buildup in the muscles during intense activity. This buildup can lead to muscle fatigue, and by neutralizing it, athletes can potentially increase their endurance and power.

The history of sodium bicarbonate use in cycling and other endurance sports is a bit complex, as it hasn't always been widely accepted or well understood. It falls under the category of "ergogenic aids": substances, devices, or practices that enhance an individual's energy use, production, or recovery.


Early Use: Sodium bicarbonate has been experimented with as a performance enhancer since at least the early 20th century. However, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when athletes, including cyclists, started using it.

Research and Controversy: In the 1980s and 1990s, more scientific research began to emerge on the effects of sodium bicarbonate on athletic performance. Some studies suggested it could indeed improve performance in high-intensity activities, but others were inconclusive or suggested the effects were minimal.

Widespread Acceptance: By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the use of sodium bicarbonate as an ergogenic aid had become more widely accepted in the athletic community. It was around this time that guidelines began to emerge about how to use it effectively and safely, often involving "loading" doses taken over several days leading up to a race.

Recent Developments: In recent years, ongoing research has explored the potential benefits and drawbacks of sodium bicarbonate supplementation. Some studies have indicated that it might be particularly effective for certain types of athletes or specific exercise types. However, the potential side effects, including gastrointestinal issues, can be a drawback for some athletes

The Good

Performance Enhancement: Multiple studies have shown that sodium bicarbonate, taken as a supplement, can improve performance in high-intensity activities, such as cycling. It does so by buffering the lactic acid that builds up in the muscles during strenuous exercise, which can delay the onset of fatigue and that limiting “burn”.

Legal and Accessible: Sodium bicarbonate is not considered a banned substance by most sports organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). This makes it a legal and accessible option for athletes looking to enhance their performance. It's also readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to other sports supplements.

Potential Additional Benefits: Emerging research suggests that sodium bicarbonate might have other benefits for athletes. For example, it may help with post-exercise recovery by regulating the acid-base balance in the blood. It could also potentially improve adaptations to endurance training.

The Bad

Individual Variation: The effects of sodium bicarbonate can vary from person to person. Not all athletes experience the same level of performance improvement, and some may not notice any difference at all. This variability can make it challenging for athletes to determine whether sodium bicarbonate supplementation is worth it.

Dosing Challenges: Getting the right dose of sodium bicarbonate can be tricky. Taking too much at once can cause gastrointestinal issues, but taking too little may not provide the desired performance benefits. Many athletes follow a "loading" protocol, taking smaller doses over several days leading up to a competition, but the effectiveness of these protocols can also vary between individuals.

The Ugly

Gastrointestinal Issues: The most notable downside of sodium bicarbonate supplementation is the potential for gastrointestinal side effects. These can include stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and even vomiting. These side effects can be particularly problematic for athletes during a competition.

Risk of Overuse: Like any supplement, there's a risk that athletes could overuse sodium bicarbonate, especially if they're desperate for a performance boost. Overuse can exacerbate gastrointestinal side effects and may also potentially lead to more serious health issues, such as metabolic alkalosis.

Still Not Fully Understood: While research on sodium bicarbonate and athletic performance has been ongoing for several decades, there are still many aspects that aren't fully understood. This includes the optimal dosing strategies, the mechanisms by which it enhances performance, and the potential long-term effects of regular supplementation.

All in all, we know sodium bicarbonate has positive performance implications. How we make the most of it and harness those benefits is the trick. One brand in particular is doing just that, and we'll be sharing more on it soon!

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The Feed. / Friday, July 14, 2023