Bicarbonate to Boost Running?

Can you believe that Bicarbonate loading in athletes has been practiced for over 70yrs, which is amazing considering many people have no idea about it!!

Also….can you believe that the household product Bicarbonate of Soda appears to be, or certainly was, the most common form!!

Early studies suggested Sodium Bicarbonate (to give Bicarbonate of Soda its proper name!!) could improve performance by up to 3%…which is significant! This led to it being widely researched as a potential ergogenic aid in sport and exercise during the 70s and 80s. It is now thought to be one of the most researched ergogenic supplements.

So, today we are going to delve into some of the research to outline:

  1. What Sodium Bicarbonate is and how it works
  2. The potential benefits and drawbacks of SB Supplementation for a runner
  3. A supplementation Protocol: How much, how often and when to take SB Supplementation….if at all!!

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Show Notes:


What is Bicarbonate? 

Here we explore the role of Bicarbonate in the body: its endogenous production, its utilisation during exercise and its removal from the body.


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. 

Here we delve into both the positive and negative effects sodium bicarbonate supplementation may have on sports performance including:


1.     Delayed onset of muscular fatigue

2.     Mitochondrial protection

3.     Improved mitochondrial function


Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms:

  1. Less severe – bloating and belching
  2. More severe – nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhoea



The difference in performance effects of Sodium Bicarbonate appears to be gender specific. Studies have found that females respond to sodium bicarbonate to a lesser extent than males. This appears to be due to differences in muscle anatomy and physiology. For example: 

  • Females have smaller type II muscle fibers than men and type II fibers rely predominantly on the glycolytic energy system. 
  • Males have greater glycolytic capacity – in other words, the ability to produce energy anaerobically i.e. in times of insufficient O2 availability – as we mentioned at the beginning
  • Females’ pH drops to a lesser extent that in males during the same type of exercise

BUT it is important to note that none of the studies took the female menstrual cycle into account when carrying out the research. So, could it be the menstrual cycle that leads to reduced athletic performance rather than the Sodium Bicarbonate supplementation? A question that requires answering through research.  


A Sodium Bicarbonate Supplement Protocol:

Here we investigate what is thought to be the optimal intake of sodium bicarbonate to support sports performance. We look at: How much, how often and when to take this supplement.



1) Sodium bicarbonate is produced by the body as a buffer in many body systems, however it is also taken externally as an ergogenic aid in sport and exercise

2) As an ergogenic aid, BS buffers the acidic effects of hydrogen and lactate, both of which are produced during anaerobic respiration

3) The performance enhancing effects are most acute in Athletes performing high intensity exercise between 1 and 7 minutes long although it is thought that exercise performed for a longer time (i.e. 30-60mins) at just below the anaerobic threshold may also benefit     

4) Although SB is recognized as an ergogenic aid, it is also known to be ergolytic ie reduce exercise performance as it can lead to GI distress in some athletes

5) To try and limit the GI effects of SB a multi-day protocol is recommended i.e. taken in small doses alongside a small CHO rich meal and spread throughout the day for approx. 5-7 days

6) Remember many factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding whether to use SB as an ergogenic aid including:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Sensitivity to and side effects suffered from SB
  • Responder/non-responder

7) We recommend you work with a professional to ensure the protocol is suitable for your needs and goals – we can help you

8) Finally, it is important to PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE in training including simulating race conditions to ensure it is a protocol that is right for you

Related Topics:

Avoiding Digestive Issues as a Runner

Runners Gut

FOOD FOR Gut Healing


The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and

advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.

If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact

your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell met at as nutrition students (Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London) and became lifelong friends and nutritional buddies! Both have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living.

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