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How Baking Soda Can Help Your Running Performance

Jul 18, 2023Jul 18, 2023

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That box in the back of your fridge? It has an unexpected use for endurance athletes.

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Baking soda's one of those kitchen essentials that oddly has a number of uses outside of just, you know, baking. While some are well known to the public (I'm sure you have an open container deodorizing your fridge right now), others are less identifiable to all but seasoned professionals.

One such example is, yes, in your fitness routine. As shocking as it may seem, this white powder can actually serve as a boost to your training if taken in the right manner and dosage. But how, exactly can an ingredient often reserved for cakes and cookies be a benefit to your workout potential? Before we get into the benefits of the bicarbonate, it helps to understand what the substance is and what it aims to accomplish within your body's physique.

While it's widely known as baking soda, bread soda, cooking soda and bicarbonate of soda, the actual name for the white, powdery substance is sodium bicarbonate (or NaHCO3 for the chemistry minded). The mildly alkaline salt is made up of sodium and bicarbonate ions and carries a pH of 8.4. Understanding the basic nature of the substance is key to realizing its potential as a worthwhile supplement.

To help biological processes operate smoothly within our bodies, the typical pH level of the human physique typically registers at 7.4, with some variation depending on the specific location (the stomach is highly acidic, for example). Outside factors can influence this pH level overall, with one such example being anaerobic exercise.

As you work out and train, your body's demand for oxygen exceeds the supply you have onboard. As a result, the anaerobic pathway is engaged to produce ATP, the body's cellular energy source. A byproduct of this opened pathway is hydrogen, which can throw off the pH levels within your musculature and lead to lessened performance.

For a clearer understanding, think of the last workout where you pushed yourself to the absolute limit. That burning sensation felt across your worked muscles was the result of hydrogen buildup and the creation of a more acidic environment in those areas. Heading that effect off can help you go longer and stronger, particularly in endurance sports like running and cycling.

Like the natural bicarbonate produced in your kidneys, baking soda can serve as a buffer to this increased acidity during training by helping pull the hydrogen out of the working muscles and into the bloodstream. Supplementing with sodium bicarbonate can help fend off these hydrogen onslaughts for longer periods, too — according to some studies — hence the substance's popularity amongst endurance athletes.

Other research suggests that, due to the increased buffering potential that sodium bicarbonate brings to the table, supplementing with baking soda can also be a great option for the final "push" of your training or competition.

Of course, the effects of supplementing with a substance can vary from athlete to athlete, and there's always the risk of potential side effects. For one, when you consume sodium bicarbonate, the alkaline material mixes with your stomach acid and can produce a gaseous sensation within your tummy. This can lead to potential GI issues such as bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms. The intensity of these side effects varies depending on your personal sensitivity to the supplement, as well as your dosage and time of ingestion.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a proper sodium bicarbonate dose is relative to your individual frame — roughly 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. In other words, if you weigh 80 kilos (176 pounds), your dosage would be 24 grams (0.85 ounces). You'll want to take it 60 to 180 minutes before your workout, as any closer to training can lead to heightened side effects. If you are wary of your sensitivity, consider taking smaller doses throughout the day, such as at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As far as supplement form goes, you can literally ingest sodium bicarbonate by spooning your recommended dose straight from the box found at your local grocery store. For the sake of measurements and convenience, though, capsules and tablets exist as well. Maurten's Bicarb System is another option for those who fancy a food-grade supplement, all while taking in the perfect dosage relative to your weight.

It's one thing to hear about the "miracles" of a newfound supplement — trust us, we read the trending posts, too — but when a substance has as much research behind it as sodium bicarbonate, it's a more digestible thought. Think you're ready to give baking soda a shot at fueling your fitness? Dig past the barbecue and hot sauce bottles on the top shelf and snag a spoonful. You might be (pleasantly) surprised.