Supercharging Creatine With Baking Soda: Study Shows Increased Peak Power and Endurance - Plus: How Bicarbonate Could Help You Lose Fat & Build Muscle

The pH of your urine is not a reliable measure of your bodies acid base-status
I have written about the "love affair" of creatine and baking soda before. Once, in the "The Pharmacokinetics of Creatine" series (Part I, Part II), where I outlined how you can "brew" your own KreAlkalyn replacement using creatine and NaHCO3, and another time back in 2010, when I discussed the data from a dissertation by James J Barber, who had conducted a preliminary investigation into the joint ergogenic effects of N-Amidinosarkosin (creatine) and NaHCO3 (baking soda) on the repeated sprint performance of recreational athletes.
You can learn more about beta alanine & bicarbonate at the SuppVersity

The Hazards of Acidosis

Build Bigger Legs W/ Bicarbonate

HIIT it Hard W/ NaCHO3

BA + Bicarb are Synergists

Bicarb Buffers Creatine

Beta Alanine Fails to HIIT Back
The complete results of a follow up investigation by Barber, who now works at the Human Performance Laboratory at the California Polytech State University, are going to be published in the next issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Barber. 2012); and they underline what you, as a diligent student of the SuppVersity, knew all along: Baking soda is not only cheaper than 99% of the commercially available supplements, it is also more ergogenic than the average junk the guy at GNC is trying to sell to you.

Soda? But that must be bad for you?! False!

For their study, the researchers recruited a group of 13 healthy previously trained (>5h of aerobic and >2h of HIT per week) young men (age 21.1 ± 0.6 yrs, BMI 23.5 ± 0.5 kg/m²; VO2Max 66.7 ± 5.7 ml/kg-min). In a double-blinded crossover fashion (meaning that each participant had to complete every condition, i.e. "crossover", and neither he, nor the researchers knew whether he had been given the active or the placebo treatment, i.e. "double-blinded"), the men had to consume a supplement containing either
  • placebo: 20g maltodextrin + 0.5g/kg maltodextrin,
  • creatine (only): 20g creatine + 0.5g/kg maltodextrin, or
  • creatine + NaHCO3: 20g creatine + 0.5g/kg baking soda*

    * for all supplement the total dosage was divided into four smaller doses, which were to be taken at 9:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m.; the subjects also completed a 48h dietary recall and were asked to consume identical foods during each condition
before their peak power, mean power, relative peak power, and bicarbonate concentrations were assessed during six subsequent 10-second repeated Wingate sprint tests on a cycle ergometer with 60s rest periods between each sprint. To preclude any carry-over effects from previous tests, or rather supplementation, each experiment was followed by a three-week washout period.
Figure 1: Total and relative peak power output (left) and relative peak power output in the individual trials (right; data adapted from Barber. 2012)
As you can see in figure 1, Barber et al. were able to confirm his initial results. Interestingly, only the creatine + NaHCO3, yet not the creatine only regimen elicited statistically significant increases in both the relative power output (in W/kg; p < 0.05 for both) and the total power output (p < 0.05 only in the creatine + NaHCO3 trial; cf. figure 1, left). Moreover, the creatine + NaHCO3 supplementation lead to "the greatest attenuation of decline in relative peak power over the 6 repeated sprints." (cf. figure 1, right).

Creatine + baking soda: Additive or synergistic effects

An interesting question the scientists probably ignored, because their GNC guy did not yet tell them about the "extraordinary superiority of buffered creatine", is whether the ~37g of sodium bicarbonate the subjects ingested simply added to the beneficial effects the 20g of creatine had on the repeated sprint performance of the athletes, or whether the baking soda also decreased the breakdown and facilitated the uptake of creatine (cf. figure 2)
Figure 2: Relative increase in creatine in dry muscle mass of horses, after supplementation with creatine monohydrate, Kre-Alkalyn or Gastner's patented creatine + sodium carbonate +sodium hydrogen carbonate formula (posted first in "The Pharmacokinetics of Creatine: Part 1/2" based on Gastner. 2010)
And while it may not be important for your HIIT sessions, whether the mechanism behind the performance increase is additive of synergistic, it could well make the one-rep difference on a deadlift or bench press competition, in the course of which each additional phosphocreatine molecule counts.
"Cholesterol is the devil and sodium is his little brother!" Everyone who still believes everything the medical orthodoxy says, please raise your hands!
A note on the dangers of "salt": Firstly, baking soda is "only" ~28% sodium, which means that for every 4 grams you ingest you get roughly 1 g of sodium. Secondly, it is arguable how much of the sodium is effectively taken up and will be floating around in your blood. As T. Lakhanisky points out in his dossier for the Belgian government: "The uptake of sodium, via exposure to sodium carbonate, is much less than the uptake of sodium via food. Therefore, sodium carbonate is not expected to be systemically available in the body." (Lakhanisky. 2002) And thirdly, there is more and more evidence that suggests that the chloride rather than the sodium content of common table salt (NaCl = NatriumChloride) is the root cause of "sodium induced hypertension" in "sodium sensitive" individuals / animal models. Only recently, a study by Schmidlin et al. showed that chloride loading induced hypertension in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat despite profound sodium depletion (Schmidlin. 2010). So, if you asked me, rather than pointing at salt as the #2 on the list of greatest evils (obviously cholesterol is still #1, here) the medical orthodoxy would be better advised to address the imbalances between sodium and potassium, which are so characteristic of the western diet, instead of painting yet another black and white picture where sodium is the bad guy and potassium the dangerous mineral that cannot be sold OTC in dosages >80mg.... but hey, this would be the topic for a whole new blogpost and as gross as it may sound, the chance that you get diarrhea from the baking soda is probably 1000x higher than the remote possibility of increases in blood pressure. A 1990 study by Luft et al. even found that the blood pressure of 10 mildly hypertensive and normal subjects decreased by 5mmHg after 7 days in the course of which they drank 3 liters of sodium bicarbonate containing water per day (Luft. 1990)
If you add to that all the previously reported benefits you can derive from a few tablespoons of baking soda
  • +34% time to exhaustion and +91% total work during HIIT (Feb 29, 2012)
  • synergistic and superior effects compared to beta alanine (Feb 20, 2012)
  • protection against stress induced oxidative damage to white blood cells (Nov 28, 2011)
  • increased performance in tennis players (Nov 4, 2010)
and obviously Barber's own previously reported results, you may understand why I urged our common friend Adelfo Cerame Jr to supplement with bicarbonate throughout his whole contest prep.

Latent metabolic acidosis hampers weight loss and muscle gains

Figure 3: The contribution of latent acidoses to the obesity epidemic and maybe even your inability to build muscle and/or lose weight
(based on Berkemeyer. 2009)
And even when you are not interested in your performance, a 2009 paper by Shoma Berkemeyer is by no means the only, nor the first article that linking an increased hydrogen ion concentrations (latent acidity, which can be countered by dietary bicarbonate) to weight gain and the obesity epidemic (Berkemeyer. 2009, cf. my summary in figure 3).

In view of the fact that even a latent H+ surplus could apparently compromise your efforts to lose fat and build muscle, it should be obvious that you better make sure to have enough alkalizing greens (and optional supplemental bicarbonate; not necessarily 30g, though ;-) in your diet - no matter if the whole acid/base balance issue, esp. the role of a high protein intake, is still very controversial.
More scientific evidence for the combination of bicarbonate & creatine in a more recent article | read it!
Practically speaking, what do I do? Since loading is not necessary unless you have a competition right ahead and this is the first time you take creatine you just take 3-5g of creatine monohydrate with approximately the same amount of sodium bicarbonate per day.

Larger doses of sodium bicarbonate as they would be used for acute performance enhancing effects are (almost certainly) not necessary to increase the efficacy of creatine. If you want the acute benefits, but get diarrhea from 15-20g of bicarbonate, I suggest you try to serial load.
Disclaimer:The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. It is by no means intended as professional medical advice. Do not use any of the agents or freely available dietary supplements mentioned on this website without further consultation with your medical practitioner.