Episode 84 - New Supplement Alert! Is Bicarb Worth Investing In?
1. Carr AJ, Hopkins WG, Gore CJ. (2011). Effects of acute alkalosis and acidosis on performance: a meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 41 (10), 801-814.
2. Peart DJ, Siegler JC, Vince RV. (2012). Practical recommendations for coaches and athletes: a meta-analysis of sodium bicarbonate use for athletic performance. J Strength Cond Res, 26 (7), 1975-1983.
3. Hadzic M, Eckstein ML, Schugardt M. (2019). The impact of sodium bicarbonate on performance in response to exercise duration: a systematic review. J Sports Sci Med, 18 (2), 271-281.
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Episode 84: New Supplement Alert! Is Bicarb Worth Investing in?
Taryn Richardson 00:00
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.
Taryn Richardson 00:43
Hey there, my friend. There is a new supplement on the market. It was actually brought to my attention by Kelly, one of our Academy athletes and I'm going to deep dive on it inside the Academy program. But what I wanted to do with my awesome podcast listeners is give you a quick little summary around whether it's worth investing in it or whether you should save your dollars and put it towards something more useful. Now I'm not going to mention any names. It is a big supplement company that markets very heavily to triathletes. And they have a new bicarb supplement. Now I've gone through their website in detail, and it hasn't specifically said it's for triathletes. But I know that if you use that product, and you maybe get that company's emails and you see it, you might be like, Oh, cool. I'm going to try that. Because you associate that company with endurance sports nutrition.
Taryn Richardson 01:39
So what's the deal? What is it? How does it work? And is it something that you should be looking at? So what is sodium bicarbonate? It's actually produced by the body and it's an integral component of our body's primary pH buffering system. It's also known as bicarb soda, or baking soda, which is that white powder that you buy from the supermarket, and it's used generally in baking to help food rise. Now why on earth would you want to use that in a sporting scenario, I'm going to need to give you a quick little science lesson for that to make sense. So hang on to your britches, when you exercise at really high intensity for a prolonged period of time - and by prolonged, because you're a triathlete, I mean minutes, not hours, because we're talking about really high intensity here - our muscles produce lactic acid as a by-product. And that lactic acid splits into hydrogen ions and lactate ions. And when those hydrogen ions build up in excess, it's called acidosis, where we have a drop in our muscle pH - so we're increasing the acidity, and that causes fatigue. Now bicarbonate, which is naturally produced by the body, helps to remove those hydrogen ions, that acid, and it acts as a buffer, allowing the muscle to continue contracting and functioning properly. So it delays that fatigue and basically keeps you going harder for longer.
Taryn Richardson 03:15
Now, lactic acid is not the enemy. It's actually a really useful fuel source during high intensity exercise, because we convert it to glucose, and use that glucose again as a fuel source. But the issue is the hydrogen ions and the acidity in our muscles, which make it work way less effectively. And that, in time, leads to fatigue and exhaustion. So there's lots of research in supplementing with bicarb to help increase the body's blood bicarbonate levels to help kind of soak up that build up of hydrogen ions which are produced during prolonged, high intensity exercise. And that helps to reduce fatigue and therefore ultimately improve performance.
Taryn Richardson 04:03
And we have seen that performance benefit. There's a number of Meta-analyses, which is really high quality level research, that report that supplementation at certain levels can result in a 2 - 3% improvement across a variety of performance measurements. So things like power, speed, work capacity and our time to failure - both during single bouts of exercise, and repeated bouts of high intensity exercise - in things that typically last anywhere between 1 - 10 minutes in duration. So you might be like, "Sign me up, take my money, Add to Cart - what are you talking about Taryn? But hang on a second. When would that actually be useful as a triathlete? When would that actually be useful? What sort of exercise situations is this buffering going to help benefit us?
Taryn Richardson 04:58
There's a few situations. So number one - high intensity exercise that lasts from between sort of 1 - 7 minutes, where that lactic acid accumulation and those hydrogen ions causes fatigue. So events like swimming, rowing, and middle distance running, are that sort of duration. Number two - it's also going to benefit exercise with those repeated high intensity efforts. So things like team sports like soccer, or football, tennis, and some combat sports. And things like multi day competition. So if you're a swimmer, like a pool swimmer, and you have heats and finals and multiple events in a day, buffering that acidosis can be useful to prevent and delay fatigue.
Taryn Richardson 05:46
(Number) three - high intensity events that lasts up to an hour, where something like a surge or a sprint to the finish helps to determine the winner. So think something like an elite sprint triathlon race, a 10k run at a high level, an elite half marathon. Men do that in under an hour, women just over. So in those instances, that additional buffering capacity is going to help support the athletes ability to increase their pace, or work output for strategic periods. So those surges in sprint finishes at the end.
Taryn Richardson 06:25
And four - during training for any of those sports that I've just talked about. So stop for a second and think, do you fit into any of those categories - as an age group triathlete? My guess is probably not (no offense). And so I'm not going to tell you how to use this supplement. There are specific dosing protocols and ways that we've figured out how to do it better than others, but you don't really need to know. Now before you go to the supermarket and pick up some bicarb from the baking aisle, let me just give you a word of warning - that way of supplementing is not particularly friendly. It's really salty, it's unappealing And it also can cause pretty severe gut upset. I've seen that firsthand. But things like nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and let's just say what could be classified as uncontrollable diarrhea. So while cheap, it's also pretty nasty.
Taryn Richardson 07:26
So take home message, this supplement is probably not worth investing in for you. And also take a step back and think that it is the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. It is a top tier performance enhancing supplement that is only going to work if you have something for it to stick to. If you haven't got your fuelling right, then there is no point doing lactic acid and hydrogen ion buffering. That's not going to be your problem. Bonking or hitting the wall or vomiting your guts up is more likely to be a problem. If you've been listening for a while you know that there are so many things you need to be fixing and nailing first - and that's our sports nutrition pyramid. We have this big thick foundation layer at the bottom. We have to work on those things first, because that is where you're going to get the best bang for your buck out of your training and out of your racing.
Taryn Richardson 08:26
And that is what we cover in Phase One of the Academy program - there's method to the madness. And then as we go further up our sports nutrition pyramid, then we're starting to layer in more advanced sports nutrition strategies. And then, and only then, when those first two layers are done, and your cake is baked and you've iced it, then we can look at some of those sprinkles to add to the top tier of that. But what so many athletes do is they flip that pyramid on its head and work from the top backwards - if they get there.
Taryn Richardson 09:00
The other thing to consider is that you may not be an elite level athlete, that's not meaning to be offensive. But are you doing a sprint distance triathlon in under an hour? Are you doing really high intensity efforts for extended durations during your races and your training? I'm talking like 85/90/95% VO2 Max - like high intensity to produce that lactic acid to warrant buffering it in the first place? Probably for the majority of your training and the majority of your racing, it's not that high intensity and sustained enough to be worthwhile trying. And I said I wasn't going to mention any names but at $16 a serve - holy shitballs, it is a very expensive way to throw spaghetti at a wall and hope it sticks. Supermarket bicarb is about $3.50 a kilo and it might not be the right format. But if you were a pool swimmer listening and you do multiple events in a day and you've got heaps of lactic acid built up, or that acidosis happening in the muscles, that stingy feeling we've just got so much lactate, then there is another option for you. And it's only about $12.50 for 100. So save your money - put it in your TNA Fund, which we talked about last week, and put that $16 a serve (OMG) into something that is actually going to push the needle for you.
Taryn Richardson 10:34
So on that, make sure you do have your name on the waitlist for the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program. I will be sending out a sneaky little offer to you if you're on the waitlist in April. So go to dietitianapproved.com/Academy. Now if you're still here, and you're still listening, and you're still thinking about buying it, my advice is don't!. It is a performance boosting supplement in some situations but, as an age group triathlete, you don't fit into that category. So even though it looks beautiful, and people will do it - hands down, there'll be heaps of people in your squad or people that you know the like, Yes, I'm using this - it is a complete waste of money. Now if you do want to nerd up on the research, I'll link those three meta analysis, in the show notes, so you can dive deep into how it works if you are that way inclined. Thanks for tuning in today. I hope that shed some light on what are the new supplements on the market and has given you clear direction about whether you should do it or whether you shouldn't. And hopefully I've saved you at least $65 just by listening today. I'll see you next week.
Taryn Richardson 11:48
Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected] You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition!