22g Baking Soda 60min Before a Old-School 4 x 12RM Leg Workout Allow for a 22 Rep Volume Increase on Hypertrophy Oriented Squat + Leg Press + Leg Extension Quads Routine

Image 1: Squats, 8 x 12, Leg Press 6 x 12, Leg Ext. 6 x 12; that's the Quads routine Serge Nubret trained twice a week in conjunction with chest – it stands out of question that this is the kind of workout that benefits most from an acid buffer like NaHCO(3)!
As a diligent student of the SuppVersity you are no stranger to the ergogenic value of sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO(3) or baking soda, and though I still believe that I have to do a lot of persuading in terms of its stand-alone benefits (click here to read more), many of you will at least have been impressed by its ability to boost the uptake and subsequent performance benefits from creatine supplements (cf. "Supercharging Creatine With Baking Soda"). And while I am not sure if the soon-to-be-published study by Carr et al. will be last straw that's finally going to break your back... ah, I mean your resistance, or I should say, unwillingness to accept that something as cheap and simple as baking soda could outperform 90% of the overpriced supplemental non-starters on the market and will not make you draw water or increase your blood pressure, although it has the bad word "sodium" in its name, I cannot tell, what I can tell you though, is that Benjamin M. Carr and his colleagues from the School of Human Performance and Recreation at the  University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg are spot on, when they say (or write) that their "findings demonstrate ergogenic efficacy for NaHCO(3) during [hypertrophy-type resistance training]" (Kerr. 2012).

The benefits of baking soda start at high intensity aerobic exercise, and end right where your willpower ends ;-)

That baking soda can be an effective ergogenic aid, especially when it comes to high volume workouts has actually long been established. Still many, if not most of the trials involved sprinters or cyclists performing HIIT-esque protocols on the track or cycle ergometer (e.g. 11.5% increase in sprint performance in Price. 2003), whereas researchers such as Portington et al. or Webster et al. totally missed the boat or, I should say, what it means to train, when they had their study participants perform laughable 5 sets of leg presses and measured nothing but a (yet significant) difference in blood pH in response to pre-supplementation (105 min before the test) with sodium bicarbonate (Webster, 1993; Portington. 1998).
Figure 1: Overview of the experimental protocol that was used in the study (based on Carr. 2012)
With four sets of three exercises at the 12RM (not yet Serge Nubret style, I know; see image 1 ;-) and the king of all leg exercises, the squat being one of them, as well as resistance trained study participants who were actually able to lift a weight that would be taxing enough to see a difference, the study design of the Carr study (see figure 1) is yet more of what I would expect to yield results with real world significance for trainees who are not at the gym to chat and show off their latest gymwear, but to train... and as the data in figure 2 goes to show, the results were what these very trainees are looking for:
Figure 2: Lactate, pH, ratio of hydrogen carbonate ions to NaHCO(3) and base excess in blood after, as well as number of total reps performed during the leg workout (data adapted from Carr. 2012)
I freely admit, an overall plus of ~22reps, in other words 1.83 reps per set does not sound like much, but if you think about how long you would have to train to achieve this improvement and/or compare it to the median effect size of weeks of beta alanine supplementation, of which you can hardly say that it was one of the aforementioned supplemental non-starters, and still offers a performance increment of only 2.87% (Hobson. 2012), the 22 +/- 13 reps or 4% increase in total volume the participants in the Carr study achieved within about 2min (by drinking their 22-32g of baking soda) are more than just a bit of alright.

"But isn't the increase in lactate a bad thing?"

"Lactate...?" I knew this would be your next question. I mean it is already hard enough to believe that anything that has the word "sodium" (by the way you Americans are the only ones who don't get that this ought to be "natrium" and not "sodium" ;-) in its name is not per se bad for you, and now the guys in the baking soda group had higher lactate levels!
Image 2: "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 = Natrium + Chloride) 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 (click here to learn more about the ratios), 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)
Now, you would have reason to be concerned if we were talking about lactic acid, which is basically lactate + a proton (you can also say, lactate is the negative ion of lactate acid if you want to). Contrary to the latter, which increases during exercise when the acid buffer of your musculature is exhausted, lactate is however not just benign, but actually beneficial.

"So lactate is a bonus... really?"

Figure 3: Mean plasma lactate, GH, and prolactin responses to intravenous infusion of 250ml 1M sodium lactate in 7 untrained healthy volunteer; note: the respective increase in GH is more pronounced with natural = exercise induced increases in lactate.
While it's still debated whether lactate is only a beneficial co-factor in the mitochondrial energy chain, as Van Hall proposes in his Y2K review of the research (Van Hall. 2000) or rather a mitochondrial energy substrate in its own right that cannot be used only in the mitochondria of your skeletal and heart muscle but also in your brain, as Pellerin et al. suggest (Pellerin. 2007), it is indisputable that the decreased formation of lactic acid, due to the perseverance of an overall higher alkalinity in the presence of a 4% higher workout volume is a beneficial things. Not the least, by virtue of the its ability to trigger the release of growth hormone (cf. figure 3; Luger. 1992), which could - in conjunction with the increased workout capacity and the supposedly faster post-workout recovery give trainees on a hypertrophy-oriented volume training regimen an edge over the salt-o-phobic competition.

In view of the fact that Carr et al. arrive at the exact same conclusion, before they state that the "ergogenic efficacy" of sodium bicarbonate during "hypertrophy-type resistance exercise" would "warrant further investigation into chronic training applications" (Carr. 2012), we can expect to see a future trial investigating exactly that: How much more will you gain if you repeat this practice for 6-8 weeks? ... I guess, I don't have to tell you that the SuppVersity is going to be the place, where you are going to read about the results of that study, first!

  • Carr BM, Webster MJ, Boyd JC, Hudson GM, Scheett TP. Sodium bicarbonate supplementation improves hypertrophy-type resistance exercise performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Sep 4.
  • Lakhanisky T. Sodium Bicarbonate. OECD SIDS. UNEP Publications. 2002.
  • Luger A, Watschinger B, Deuster P, Svoboda T, Clodi M, Chrousos GP. Plasma growth hormone and prolactin responses to graded levels of acute exercise and to a lactate infusion. Neuroendocrinology. 1992 Jul;56(1):112-7.
  • Luft FC, Zemel MB, Sowers JA, Fineberg NS, Weinberger MH. Sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride: effects on blood pressure and electrolyte homeostasis in normal and hypertensive man. J Hypertens. 1990 Jul;8(7):663-70.
  • Pellerin, L., Bouzier- Sore, A.-K., Aubert, A., Serres, S., Merle, M., Costalat, R. & Magistretti, P. 2007. Activity-dependent regulation of energy metabolism by astrocytes: an update. Glia 55, 1251–1262. 
  • Price M, Moss P, Rance S. Effects of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on prolonged intermittent exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Aug;35(8):1303-8. 
  • Portington KJ, Pascoe DD, Webster MJ, Anderson LH, Rutland RR, Gladden LB. Effect of induced alkalosis on exhaustive leg press performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Apr;30(4):523-8.
  • Schmidlin O, Tanaka M, Sebastian A, Morris RC Jr. Selective chloride loading is pressor in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat despite hydrochlorothiazide-induced natriuresis. J Hypertens. 2010 Jan;28(1):87-94.
  • Van Hall G. Lactate as a fuel for mitochondrial respiration. Acta Physiol Scand. 2000 Apr;168(4):643-56.
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