How Sodium Bicarbonate May Improve Athletic Performance

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃), is a familiar chemical compound that is a well-known leavening agent for bread. It also is a natural cleaning product and toothpaste ingredient.

You may even have a box stashed in your pantry or sitting in the refrigerator. This common baking ingredient has been widely researched and appears to help our muscles during intense workouts. Learn more about sodium bicarbonate and its potential benefits for improving workouts.

What is Sodium Bicarbonate?

Although primarily known as a baking and cleaning aid, baking soda is a popular workout supplement. In fact, sodium bicarbonate is among the leading ergogenic aids.

Ergogenic aids are substances known to boost performance, stamina, or recovery. Athletes and individuals participating in vigorous exercise use baking soda to help delay muscle fatigue and improve performance.

Potential Benefits of Baking Soda Supplementation

Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) supplementation is especially popular during short bouts of high-intensity exercise. Sprinters, swimmers, and rowers have improved performance by taking baking soda before their competitive sport. Additional research has indicated baking soda may be beneficial during challenging workouts lasting 30 to 60 minutes. 

Improved Workout Performance

During high-intensity workouts, your body releases chemicals into the muscle tissue—metabolic byproducts like lactic acid and hydrogen form in the muscle cells. While most byproducts are buffered, some remain in the muscle cells, creating an acidic environment. According to research, baking soda supplementation may reduce lactic acid during interval training and improve short-term endurance performance. 

Acidity is directly related to pH levels in your body. Increased acidity alters pH levels, causing your muscles to burn and feel fatigued. Research shows that high-intensity endurance athletes who take sodium bicarbonate may experience less exhaustion, allowing them to push harder for longer during training.

According to research, taking sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) before exercise helps to flush metabolic byproducts from the muscle tissue.

Balanced pH Levels

Body functioning is optimal when our pH is balanced or neutral. Body acidity and alkalinity are measured using pH, a scale from 0 to 14. Our body is most acidic at zero and most alkaline at 14. The body works hard to maintain a neutral pH of 7. Baking soda ingestion is believed to have the ability to reduce the acidic environment caused by high-intensity exercise.

When the environment in our body becomes too acidic, we can experience adverse health effects. The heart, liver, and kidneys can be overworked, leading to chronic health conditions. Too much acidity can contribute to muscle impairment and atrophy (wasting).

Baking soda has become well-known for balancing acidity in the body and serving as good preventative medicine. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts appreciate the health benefits and use it often to power their workouts.  

Improved Athletic Performance

High-intensity exercise signals our body to release hydrogen ions. Hydrogen is a metabolic waste product causing an acidic environment and decreased athletic performance. Research indicates sodium bicarbonate buffers the acids by binding to them. This binding allows for enhanced energy output during challenging workouts.

When acid levels are maintained at neutral levels, muscles operate more efficiently. Energy metabolism is increased, and studies indicate our muscles can sustain longer workouts. A study on CrossFit athletes showed that progressive sodium bicarbonate dosing boosted performance and delayed ventilatory threshold occurrence.

This threshold is the point where you start to accumulate lactate, and getting oxygen to your muscles becomes a limiting factor in how much you can push yourself during training as your body relies on anaerobic metabolism.

Non-Supportive Findings

Research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism reported the effects of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) ingestion and interval training in highly trained rowers. This research also measured how baking soda altered the acidity (hydrogen ions) in muscle tissue during high-intensity exercise.

Study participants included 12 young, healthy Australian competitive rowers. Strict baseline testing was required as part of the research protocol. The rowers completed two high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions weekly and over a four-week period.

The participants were split into two groups taking either sodium bicarbonate (0.3-gram dose per kilogram of body weight) or placebo 90-minutes before HIIT. Blood samples were taken throughout the study to measure bicarbonate and pH levels.

Research results indicated no additional improvement in 2000 meter rowing time with sodium bicarbonate ingestion compared to the placebo. However, a small increase in power output for participants using baking soda was detected.

Because the findings in this study were trivial, researchers suggest regular baking soda ingestion during interval training doesn’t greatly enhance performance that much. 

Recommended Dosage

A review of research in Current Sports Medicine Reports suggests ideal dosing for bicarbonate loading may be 0.3 g/kg of body mass of pure NaHCO3. This appears to be the optimal amount to balance acidity (pH) in the blood and muscle tissue.

According to the study, it’s also recommended sodium bicarbonate be taken 120 to 150 minutes before exercise and combined with a small high carbohydrate meal. This reduces the chance of unwanted gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Adverse Effects

Research published in the International Journal of Physiology and Sports Performance indicated sodium bicarbonate may not be beneficial for everyone. Four study participants had to discontinue testing because of severe gastrointestinal (GI) distress.

It was also recommended, “individuals should determine whether they respond well to [sodium bicarbonate] supplementation before a competition.”

Not everyone is able to use sodium bicarbonate to enhance athletic performance. Some users will experience gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Some athletes have tried to divide the recommended 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight dose throughout the day to eliminate this problem.

The study performed on CrossFit athletes showed success in avoiding any gastrointestinal distress by dosing the sodium bicarbonate over time rather than all at once. Other athletes have reduced the amount of sodium bicarbonate and were successful in using 0.2 grams per kilogram of body weight dose prior to exercise.

Some adverse gastrointestinal effects have been noted when taking baking soda. It's important to start any new supplement regimen in small doses and work with your care provider to determine safety.

A Word From Verywell

There is strong evidence indicating sodium bicarbonate can enhance athletic performance. “As far as the safety of the supplement, it’s as common and innocuous as ordinary baking soda because that’s exactly what it is.” The only drawback is possible gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Also, those who need to limit their salt intake should be aware of increased sodium in baking soda.

Although the findings are robust, using baking soda or any ergogenic aid to enhance athletic performance is always a personal choice. Be sure to talk to a healthcare provider before trying any supplements, including sodium bicarbonate.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.