Supplement Face-Off: Baking Soda Versus Beta-Alanine
Have you heard that baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, can enhance your athletic performance? It’s true, according to a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Sprinting and other anaerobic activity make your blood more acidic. Baking soda is strongly alkaline, so in theory it can help keep your body’s pH closer to neutral, which may enhance your ability to buffer lactic acid.
Researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of baking soda and beta-alanine independently as aids to sprinting. The researchers also thought they might discover that combining the two supplements would form a super-supplement that worked better than either substance alone.
The researchers recruited 24 men who played competitive soccer, field hockey, or Australian football. The men were put through a series of twenty meter sprints and rest intervals that simulated the demands of their sports. Later each man was given one of four different supplements: baking soda, beta-alanine, both baking soda and beta-alanine, or a sugar pill and a swift pat on the bum. The athletes then repeated the sprint test and compared times to their baseline.
Which supplement reigned supreme? Baking soda. Athletes who ingested baking soda about an hour prior to sprinting turned in twenty meter times that were consistently faster than baseline. In the last set of sprints, as fatigue set it, the baking soda group rallied to perform each sprint more than 0.1 seconds faster than baseline.
How did the other groups fare? The beta-alanine group showed almost no difference at all. The group that took both baking soda and beta-alanine showed small improvement, but not as much as the baking soda group. This appears to indicate that adding beta-alanine to the mix actually hurt performance. Finally, the placebo group actually didn’t fare too badly. By the numbers, they technically performed better than the beta-alanine group. I suppose that was a very special sugar pill and pat on the bum.
It looks like baking soda may work pretty well as a sports supplement. These athletes took it about an hour prior to performance at a dose of 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. That means the dose ranges from fifteen grams for a small woman to thirty or more grams for a large man.
The use of baking soda as a sports supplement also has much supporting research from other studies, so this just adds to the evidence. However, a word of caution: supplementing with baking soda is widely reported to cause explosive diarrhea. It’s supposedly snow white in color, which is kind of cool, but still a major consideration.
1. Kagan Ducker, et al. Effect of Beta Alanine and Sodium Bicarbonate Supplementation on Repeated-Sprint Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. December 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 12 - p 3450–3460. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31828fd310
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