The ergogenic effect of baking soda on running and other forms of endurance exercise has been known for a while. During anaerobic efforts you can sustain your effort for longer after ingesting simple baking soda. Baking soda also improves performance during shorter cardio bursts, such as intervals.
What is much less understood is the effect of baking soda on weight lifting. Interval training in cardio is similar in some ways to weight lifting, since it mimics the episodic nature of how we lift in the gym. Indeed, one of the major factors modulated by baking soda is time to exhaustion, and this is something weight lifters are always looking to extend. Creatine, for example, assists that goal. This month in a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers decided to see if baking soda improved lifting performance.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of the ergogenic effect of baking soda, you may be surprised. Yes, plain old baking soda actually boosts athletic performance. Baking soda can induce alkalosis, which is the opposite of acidosis, or increased acidity in your body. If the pH of your blood and cellular fluids changes much beyond normal, your performance will suffer.
Anaerobic exercise induces mild acidosis, which can decrease performance, but it’s possible to combat this by consuming baking soda. Doing so reduces the acidity of the blood, which in turn, normalizes the cellular tissues. Theoretically, the consumption of baking soda should work for resistance exercise just like it does for intense cardio work. Resistance exercise increases acidity just like cardio exercise does, but the acidity increase may be more localized to the muscles being worked.
In this study, the participants used 80% of their max weight on the squat and the bench press exercises. They did three sets of each exercise to failure using this weight, with three minutes of rest in between sets and five minutes in between exercises. In random order and on different days, each person either consumed baking soda or a placebo an hour before lifting.
The baking soda did significantly improve the squat performance. The average total reps over three sets without baking soda was 24.6, but with baking soda, the average was 31.3. That’s more than a 25% improvement, which is major. The bench press performance didn’t increase significantly. This may be due to a combination of less musculature used, and the fact that the subjects always did the bench press after the squat.
The participants used 0.3g of baking soda dissolved in a sweetened fluid. Keep in mind that gastric upset is sometimes a side effect of drinking baking soda in these amounts. Three of the subjects – almost half of them – felt some gastric upset during the baking soda phase, and it actually reduced the performance of one participant. Also, as suggested by its chemical name, sodium bicarbonate, getting enough baking soda to boost performance means taking in a lot of sodium.
Much like its effects on cardio, baking soda does seem to work pretty well for weightlifting performance, at least for the squat. If you can risk an upset stomach and a lot of sodium, it might be worth a shot.
1. Michael J. Duncan, et. al., “The effect of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on back squat and bench press exercise to failure,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000277.
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