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Sodium bicarbonate: why athletes take it and how it improves performance

Sodium bicarbonate: why athletes take it and how it improves performance

Heard sodium bicarbonate can improve your performance? James Witts explains the why and how of this popular supplement

Credit: Getty Images

Sodium bicarbonate, or baking powder, is a supplement that’s been used for years, specifically for higher-intensity workouts like interval or hill sessions.

Why is down to this fundamental physiology… As training or race intensity rises, you generate increasing amounts of lactic acid – a byproduct of metabolising carbs.

Your cells recycle this until they reach saturation point and the lactic acid tips over into the bloodstream, lowering your blood’s pH and your power output drops.

That’s where sodium bicarbonate comes in. Because it’s an alkaline, it neutralises the acidic threat from intense exercise, allowing you to produce more lactate during exercise and do more intense bouts.

Studies show that the optimal dose is about 0.3g per kg bodyweight so, for an 80kg athlete, you’re looking at 24g. You can weigh out the sodium bicarb before, mixing with water, or consume capsules.

The problem with the former is that there’s a chance of a poorly tummy; with the latter, a capsule like Sodibic, you’re looking at 28 capsules as each contains just 840mg!

As for timing, traditionally it was advised to take the bicarb 2-3hrs before your race or session. However, a recent study out of Edge Hill Uni showed that peaking time for some individuals comes after just 75mins. So see what works for you.

Profile image of James Witts James Witts Freelance sports writer and author

About

Former 220 Triathlon magazine editor James is a cycling and sports writer and editor who's been riding bikes impressively slowly since his first iridescent-blue Peugeot road bike back in the 80s. He's a regular contributor to a number of cycling and endurance-sports publications, plus he's authored four books: The Science of the Tour de France: Training secrets of the world’s best cyclists, Bike Book: Complete Bicycle Maintenance, Training Secrets of the World's Greatest Footballers: How Science is Transforming the Modern Game, and Riding With The Rocketmen: One Man's Journey on the Shoulders of Cycling Giants

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