Bicarbonate to Boost Running?
What is Bicarbonate?
Bicarbonate is an endogenously produced extracellular anion. In other words, the body produces bicarbonate internally, most of which is found in the fluid surrounding cells rather than the fluid inside cells. The fact that it is an anion means it is a chemical with a negative charge.
Bicarbonate is the second-most abundant anion in the blood (chloride being the most abundant) and Its principal function is to maintain the body’s acid–base (pH) balance by being part of various buffer systems.
Bicarbonate anions are produced as the result of a chemical reaction that starts with the carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) molecules. Carbon dioxide is produced in large amounts in tissues that have a high metabolic rate, in other words, at the end of aerobic metabolism.
C02 is then converted into bicarbonate in the cytoplasm (liquid part) of red blood cells. A small amount of CO2 can be dissolved in body fluids; but over 90 percent of the CO2 produced is converted into bicarbonate ions.
Bicarbonate is then transported in the blood to be utilized or taken to the lungs. On reaching the lungs the reactions reverse direction, and CO2 is regenerated from the bicarbonate to be exhaled as metabolic waste.
In sport, the buffering capabilities of Bicarbonate is linked to anaerobic metabolism (or anaerobic glycolysis as it is widely known).
Anaerobic glycolysis is the transformation of glucose to lactate to produce energy when limited amounts of oxygen (O2) are available, so basically, when carrying out prolonged periods of intense sport, that is, for more than one minute and up to approximately 7 minutes.
During high rates of anaerobic glycolysis muscle may produce excessive amounts of Hydrogen and Lactate ions leading to metabolic disturbances and ultimately fatigue. The extracellular Bicarbonate steps in to facilitate the removal of these acids ie buffering their effects. The idea is that this could delay the onset of muscular fatigue during prolonged anaerobic metabolism.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Sodium Bicarbonate Supplementation
The body can produce bicarbonate by itself to help maintain Blood pH balance, however intense exercise sustained over a period of time may lead to the body’s capacity to produce Bicarbonate being overwhelmed. Sodium bicarbonate in supplement form may support the buffering system therefore delay the onset of muscle fatigue brought on by acid build up, principally Hydrogen ions and lactate, which are by-products of anaerobic respiration.
- Delayed onset of muscular fatigue
- Mitochondrial protection
- Improved mitochondrial function
- Increased lactate threshold
- Possible reduction in muscle protein damage
- Improved overall sports performance in both single and multiple bout exercise
- Improved performance in both male and female athletes
- Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms:
- Less severe – bloating and belching
- More severe – nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhoea
These symptoms appear to be associated with a build-up CO2 in the digestive tract as well as sodium bicarbonate’s ability to neutralize gastric acid, thus increasing the risk of bacteria and other pathogens causing illness.
- Chronic intake of sodium bicarbonate could lead to an Increased sodium load on the body over time. This could affect the health of the renal and cardiovascular systems.
FEMALE FACTORS: See Below
A Sodium Bicarbonate Supplement Protocol: How Much, How Often and When to take it
A lower dose of 0.2-0.3g/Kg of body weight (BW), as a single dose (this equates to approximately 4-5 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda)
A higher dose of 0.4-0.5g/Kg BW as a single does not appear to provide any additional performance benefits but is associated with a higher incidence AND severity of gastrointestinal symptoms
0.2g/Kg BW is suggested to be the minimum dose required to provide performance enhancing effects when given as a single dose
0.3g/Kg BW is thought to be the optimal dose for ergogenic effects
A multi-day protocol of 0.3g/Kg BW of Sodium Bicarbonate per day divided into smaller doses taken at different points during the day (for example 0.1g-0.2g/Kg BW taken at breakfast, lunch and dinner) for between 3 to 7 days
Consider starting with a lower dose of sodium bicarbonate and then building up to help minimize the risk of gastrointestinal side effects
Take the supplements with a small carbohydrate rich meal approximately 120-150mins before exercise as gastrointestinal symptoms are thought to peak around 90mins post-ingestion. Having it with a small carbohydrate rich meal is also thought to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms
Supplements can be purchased in various forms including:
Enteric coated capsules are the recommended form because the enteric coating means the capsules bypass the stomach acid, which potentially reduces or completely avoids any gastric symptoms. BUT the side effects within the small intestines, including diarrhoea, cannot be avoided.