Sodium bicarbonate delivery before exercise benefits anaerobic output, meta analysis finds

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - jacoblund
©Getty Images - jacoblund

Related tags Anaerobic digestion Energy Sports nutrition sector Sports Nutrition Summit USA

A new meta analysis supports the notion sodium bicarbonate benefits anaerobic exercise via the glycolytic energy production system. The authors also weighed on what they said to be the best way to supplement athletes with the compound.

The review was published recently in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition​.  It was conducted by researchers associated with several universities in Spain.

Focusing on the biochemistry

The researchers sought to identify the benefits of sodium bicarbonate ingestion by review papers on the subject.  But to lessen the noise associated with the research, they avoided looking at performance endpoints in the many different sports studied and focused instead on the underlying biochemical measures.

The authors search for candidate studies using combinations of search terms such as ‘sodium bicarbonate’ and ‘energy expenditure’ or ‘metabolism’ and so forth.  They conducted the search on several databases including PubMed and Web of Science.  They found 351 studies of which 17 met their inclusion criteria which covered 251 subjects in total. Of the 17 studies, 11 were focused on anaerobic exercise while the others looked at aerobic exercise.

The authors were looking for studies that involved trained subjects who ingested sodium bicarbonate before exercise.  They were also looking for studies that were blinded, included placebos, and described data in detail, including mean and standard deviations.

Buffering your way to victory

The argument in favor of sodium bicarbonate for sports nutrition use involves the systems the body uses to supply energy when the demand rises faster than what the usual aerobic energy system can supply.

The first anaerobic system is the phosphagen system that involves ATP and creatine phosphate.  This system, which could supply energy for a rapid burst activity such as a single repetition maximum weight lift, is depleted in fewer than 10 seconds.  If energy demand is still high, a second anaerobic system, the glycolytic system, synthesizes ATP from glucose.  

The glycolytic system results in the rapid accumulation of lactic acid which, if not cleared immediately, converts to lactate, which lowers the pH in muscle fibers. 

 If the pH goes too low the athlete is forced to lower the intensity of the effort. Sodium bicarbonate provides a buffering function that could prevent the pH from dropping as fast. That theoretically would allow athletes to push harder for longer in those situations and could possibly provide a winning edge.

The researchers said their meta analysis is the first of its type.

“To our knowledge, the present study is the first to assess the contribution of NaHCO3 ingestion on energy metabolism during exercise with a meta-analytic statistical technique using Review Manager 5.3 (v5.3, Cochrane Collaboration, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2020).”​ they wrote.

Researchers recommend dellivery mode

 After parsing through the data, including the data on delivery modes and dosages, the researchers came up with the following conclusion:

“This meta-analysis has found that the anaerobic metabolism system (AnMS), especially the glycolytic but not the oxidative system during exercise is affected by ingestion of NaHCO3. The ideal way is to ingest it is in a gelatin capsule in the acute mode and to use a dose of 0.3​ g•kg​ 1 body mass of NaHCO3 90​ min before the exercise in which energy is supplied by the glycolytic system.”

Source:Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
18, Article number: 11 (2021)
Effect of sodium bicarbonate contribution on energy metabolism during exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Authors: Calvo JL, et al.

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