New Supplement Alert! Is Bicarb Worth Investing In?
Mar 09, 2023
New Supplement Alert! Is Bicarb Worth Investing In?
So, what’s the deal? What is sodium bicarbonate? How does it work? And is it something you should be looking at?
There’s a new supplement on the market from one of the big supplement companies that markets heavily to triathletes – bicarbonate aka bicarb of soda, baking soda or sodium bicarbonate.
Athletes within the Triathlon Nutrition Academy get to dive deep into this during the program, but I thought it was important to provide you with a quick summary – so you can make an informed decision on whether it’s worth the investment.
So, what’s the deal? What is it? How does it work? And is it something you should be looking at?
Sodium bicarbonate is produced by the body and it's an integral component of our body's primary pH buffering system.
Also known as bicarb soda or baking soda – a white powder you buy from supermarkets, used in baking to help food rise.
Why would you use sodium bicarb to improve exercise performance?
To help answer that question, we need to do a quick science lesson…
- When you exercise at really high intensity for a prolonged period of time (for minutes, not hours), your muscles produce lactic acid.
- That lactic acid splits into hydrogen (H+) ions and lactate ions
- When hydrogen ions (H+) build up in excess, it’s called acidosis – which is a drop in muscle pH, increasing the acidity which in turn causes fatigue.
Bicarbonate (naturally produced by the body) helps to “soak up” these H+, (acid) acting as a buffer – allowing the muscle to continue contracting and functioning properly, delaying fatigue and basically keeping you going harder for longer.
A few important points to note:
- Lactic acid is not the enemy – it’s a useful fuel source during high intensity exercise. We convert it to glucose and use it as a fuel source.
- The issue is H+ and the acidity in our muscles – our muscle works less effectively which leads to fatigue and exhaustion.
There’s lots of research in supplementing with bicarb to increase our body’s blood bicarbonate levels to help buffer the build up of H+ ions produced during prolonged, high-intensity exercise, reducing fatigue and improving performance.
Will you see a Performance Benefit by supplementing with bicarb?
- Multiple large Meta-analyses (high quality research) has reported that supplementation at certain levels can result in an approximate 2 to 3% improvement across a variety of performance measurements (e.g. power, speed, work capacity, time to failure) during both single and repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise typically lasting 1-10 minutes in duration.
Right now, you might be like “Sign me up, take my money, Taryn”.
But hang on a second ...
When would supplementing with bicarb be useful?
- For short duration, high intensity events i.e. 1-7mins where lactic acid accumulation causes fatigue e.g. swimming, rowing, middle distance running
- Exercise with repeated high-intensity efforts e.g. team sports – soccer/football, tennis, some combat sports and sports with multi-day competitions like swimming heats and finals
- High intensity events up to an hour where a surge or sprint to the finish determines the winner – e.g. an elite sprint triathlon, 10km run, elite half marathon. In this instance, the additional buffering capacity may support the athlete’s ability to increase their pace/work output for strategic periods (e.g. surges, sprint finishes).
- Training for any of these sports
Do you fit into any of these categories as an age-group triathlete? My guess - probably not!
I’m not going to tell you how to use this supplement (there are specific evidence-based dosing protocols) because I don’t think you’re likely to need it.
Now before you go the supermarket and pick up some bicarb from the baking aisle – this way of supplementing is incredibly salty and unappealing. It can also cause severe gut upset – think nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and let’s just say uncontrollable diarrhoea.
Take Home Summary
- This type of supplementation is the ‘sprinkles’ on the icing on your sports nutrition cake – there are so many things you need to be nailing first, before even thinking about adding a top tiet performance enhancing supplement
- It’s not for you if you’re not an elite sprint distance racer. You’re likely to be exercising for extended durations and the intensity is probably not high enough (most of the time)
- At $16 a serve – save your money!! Side note, supermarket bicarb is only ~$3.5/kg! But it’s not in the right format. If you are a pool swimmer doing multiple events in a day, there is another option that’s only ~ $12.50 for 100. But seek professional advice before dabbling with this!
If you want to take a listen to the full podcast episode, click HERE and hey, if you’re still thinking about buying it, my advice is ... don’t.
Save your money, put it in a separate savings account called TNA and come and join us next time we open doors ;)
If you are interested in learning more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy Program and what it can do for you, head HERE to join the waitlist for our next opening.