Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Baking Soda & Beta Alanine Synergistically Promote Upper Body Power Output by 14%. Body Part, Dosage or Subject Specificity? What's Behind the Newly Found Synergism?

Finally, beta alanine passes the baton to sodium bicarbonate ;-)
The hypothesis that the combination of an "internal" (as in inside of the cell) and an external H+ buffer would be a perfect match is unquestionably straight forward. What was yet about as straight forward were the results of a study by Ducker et al. you've read about, here at the SuppVersity on March 28, 2013: While the combination looks perfect on paper, the real-world results were more than just disappointing. The additional beta alanine did not only fail to promote the ergogenic effects of baking soda (NaHCO3), it did in fact thwart them (learn more).

New study, new participants, new protocol, new results

Now, I am pretty sure Gabriel Tobias and his colleagues from the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) and the Nottingham Trent University in the UK, had not heard about the results Ducker et al. reported a couple of weeks ago, when they set out to test the effects of beta alanine (BA;  CarnoSyn(TM) 6.4 g/day for 28 days), sodium bicarbonate (SB aka baking soda, aka NaHCO3; 500 mg kg/day for 7 days) and the combination of both supplements on high-intensity performance, using an intermittent upper-body exercise as the performance assessment model in well-trained athletes.

The study at hand is yet by no means a duplicate of the Ducker study, and I guess I don't have to point out, that the subject characteristics 
Figure 1: Experimental design of the randomized placebo controlled study. 
  • 40 non-vegetarian, non-smoking, well-trained, experienced judo (n=19) and jiu-jitsu (n=21) male competitors (age 26, body weight 77-80kg; training volume 340-410min per week) vs. team-sport athletes in the Ducker study
and, at least to a certain degree, the exercise protocol
  • 4 bouts of a 30-s upper-body Wingate Test vs.lower body repeated sprint tests in the Ducker study
make it pretty attractive for the average muscle head whose sets usually don't last much longer than those 30s and who does (unfortunately) often neglect / 'undertrain' his legs in favor of his bis, chest and the rest of his upper body.

"And it does work!"

As you can see in the graphical outline of the experimental design in figure 1 the participants were randomly assigned to the individual study arms. While this eliminates cross-over effects of BA / SB residues, the sample size (N=10 per group) is pretty low and intra-personal comparisons are not possible.
Increase in total work (kj/100) compared to pre-supplementation levels, rate of perceived exertion and magnitude-based inferences for total work done in three of the four experimental groups (Tobias. 2013)
The effect size was yet still large enough to say with 100% certainty that the combination of BA + SB yields ergogenic benefits in terms of statistically, as well as practically relevant increases in total work-load during the upper body Wingate Test (BA and SB alone increased the total work done by +7 and 8 %, respectivel, together they achived an increase of +14%). The decrement in rate of perceived exertion was almost identical in all three groups treated with SB and/or BA (-11%), but reached statistical significance only in the BA + SB group.

Now the question remains. What makes the difference?

And what I mean by difference, here, is the difference between the Tobias and the Ducker study, of which Tobias, Benatti, Painelli and the others obviously weren't aware, when they wrote:
Figure 2: The effects of beta alanine (top) and baking soda (middle) "preloading" on mean power during exercise bout 1-4 add up (Tobias. 2013)
"To date, only two studies have examined the additive ergogenic effects of BA and SB. While neither the Sale et al. (2011) nor Bellinger et al. (2012) studies were able to detect a clear additive effect of the combined supplemen-tation (although Sale et al. 2010, 2011 did report 70 % probability of a meaningful effect), our data show that co-supplementation of BA and SB were more effective at increasing the total work done over the four bouts of exercise than these supplements taken individually. The main methodological difference between the present study
and those by Sale et al. (2011) and Bellinger et al. (2012) relate to the exercise protocol used to assess performance (i.e. upper-body high-intensity intermittent exercise in the current study vs. continuous single-bout high-intensity leg-exercises in previous studies (Sale et al.2011; Bellinger et al.2012), which may have accounted for the discrepant results. " (Tobias. 2013)  
Referring to studies by Hermansen (1972) and Belfry (2012), Tobias et al. further point out that there is in fact evidence that multiple bouts of supra-maximal exercise results in higher muscle acidosis than continuous supra-maximal exercises. And while this would apply to the Ducker stud, which did likewise use supra-maximal bouts, as well, previous studies by Robertson have clearly shown that
"arm exercises are more sensitive to performance improvements induced by increased buffering capacity (via sodium bicarbonate ingestion) than leg exercises, possibly because the former leads to greater blood H+ concentration" (Tobias. 2013)
Other confounding factors are training status and the familiarity with the type of exercise that's used during the testing procedure. Already super-compensated carnosine stores in highly trained athletes (this was suggested by Bellinger et al. in  2012, but would not be compatible with the results of the study at hand, where 8/9 athletes did respond to beta alanine),  and obviously different supplementation regimen.

Sodium bicarbonate can also supercharge creatine (learn more)
Bottom line: The body part specificity, as well the higher average dosage of beta alanine and finally the chronic vs. acute NaHCO3 supplementation of the study at hand could well explain the initially mentioned differences between the Tobias and the Ducker study. Overall, the results Tobias et al. present in their most recent paper speak in favor of the initial hypothesis that the combination of BA + SB would constitute an ideal ergogenic that could help basically every athlete competing in a sport where H+ buildup can limit maximal exercise performance.

The range of athletes (cyclists, sprinters, team sports athletes competing in sports, where intermediate sprints matter, fitness junkies, body builders, etc.) who can benefit from supplementing with both 500mg/kg sodium bicarbonate and 6g time released beta alanine per day is actually high enough to combining them may be well worth a try for most of you - just don't expect instant gratification as with caffeine & co.

  • Belfry GR, Raymer GH, Marsh GD, Paterson DH, Thompson RT, Thomas SG. Muscle metabolic status and acid-base balance during 10-s work:5-s recovery intermittent and continuous exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2012; 113:410–417. 
  • Bellinger PM, Howe ST, Shing CM, Fell JW The effect of combined b-alanine and NaHCO3 supplementation on cycling performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012; 44:1545–1551 
  • Ducker KJ, Dawson B, Wallman KE. Effect of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation on repeated-sprint performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar 21.
  • Sale C, Saunders B, Harris RC. Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine concentrations and exer-cise performance. Amino Acids. 2010; 39:321–333.
  • Sale C, Saunders B, Hudson S, Wise JA, Harris RC, Sunderland CD. Effect of b-alanine plus sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity cycling capacity. Med Sci Sports Exerc.  2011; 43:1972–1978.
  • Tobias G, Benatti FB, de Salles Painelli V, Roschel H, Gualano B, Sale C, Harris RC, Lancha AH Jr, Artioli GG. Additive effects of beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate on upper-body intermittent performance. Amino Acids. 2013 Apr 18. [Epub ahead of print]