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Sodium Bicarbonate Supplements and Exercise Performance
Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is a popular household product.
It has many uses in cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene.
Additionally, many athletes and gym-goers use it to help them perform during intense training.
This detailed guide explains everything you need to know about sodium bicarbonate and exercise performance.
What is sodium bicarbonate?
Sodium bicarbonate has the chemical formula NaHCO3. It’s a mildly alkaline salt made up of sodium and bicarbonate ions.
Sodium bicarbonate is also known as baking soda, bread soda, bicarbonate of soda, and cooking soda. It is commonly found in nature, dissolved in mineral springs.
However, it is best recognized as the white, odorless, non-flammable powder you can find in your local supermarket.
Sodium bicarbonate is best known as baking soda. It is an alkaline salt, easily found in its white powder form in most supermarkets.
How does sodium bicarbonate work?
To understand how sodium bicarbonate works, it’s helpful to first understand the concept of pH.
How pH affects exercise performance
In chemistry, pH is a scale used to grade how acidic or alkaline (basic) a solution is.
A pH of 7.0 is considered neutral (pure water has a pH of 7.0). Anything lower than 7.0 is acidic, and anything above 7.0 is alkaline (1Trusted Source).
The pH level of the human body varies depending on the part of the body. For example, our blood has a pH of about 7.4, while stomach acid is highly acidic, with a pH of 1–3 (1Trusted Source).
Interestingly, the pH of our bodies is tightly regulated, which ensures that they function properly. This regulation is referred to as the acid-base balance and is controlled mainly by our kidneys and lungs (1Trusted Source).
However, certain health conditions and external factors can disrupt this balance. One of these factors is high intensity exercise, also known as anaerobic exercise.
During anaerobic exercise, your body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the available supply. As a result, your muscles cannot rely on oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your body’s cellular energy source (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Instead, they must switch to a different pathway — the anaerobic pathway — to produce ATP.
While researchers don’t yet fully understand this process, they have determined that a major byproduct of the anaerobic pathway is hydrogen (H+).
Too much hydrogen in the working muscles decreases the pH of your muscles, creating an acidic environment. This leads to the unwanted “burning” sensation we’ve all felt during anaerobic exercises such as sprints and resistance training (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Contrary to popular belief, most research no longer points to lactic acid or lactate as the main cause of burning or muscle fatigue. In fact, lactate may help reduce hydrogen molecules in muscle (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
How sodium bicarbonate helps maintain pH
Sodium bicarbonate has an alkaline pH of 8.4 and may play a role in buffering excess hydrogen during anaerobic exercise (4).
Interestingly, your kidneys produce bicarbonate (HCO3) to help your body maintain proper pH levels. It’s one of the main buffering substrates in your body because it can accept a hydrogen ion, which increases its pH to make it less acidic (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
During exercise, bicarbonate and other buffering agents work to pull hydrogen out of the working muscle and into the bloodstream, allowing the muscle to return to a less acidic state (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
Thus, it’s theorized that supplementing with sodium bicarbonate may aid in this process, allowing the muscle to maintain longer bouts of exercise (5Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
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