Bicarbonate For Strength Athletes: 25g of Baking Soda Up Your Squat (+27%) & Bench Press (+6%) Within 60 Min

NaHCO3 probably won't make the burn go away, but it will help you push though it.... and no(!), you don't have to be afraid to retain water - sodium bicarbonate is actually going to lower aldosterone and is thus - if anything - going to have a diuretic effect (Musabayane. 1991). Calcium loss etc. is nothing you have to be afraid of either (Luft. 1990).
After yesterday's astonishingly popular excursion into dating sciences, we are back to "normal" or as others would call it "extraordinary", here at the SuppVersity today ;-) And to make really sure you know that you're right here we're going to get back into the ergogenic groove with one of my personal favorites: Sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3 or as your granny calls it, baking soda!

In the unfortunate case you have no idea, what I am taking about, I'd suggest you briefly go through the previous SuppVersity articles and Facebook posts (e.g. +13% increase the sprinting capacity; sorry for the → typo) about the ergogenic effects of baking soda . Once you've done that it should not really come as a surprise that scientists from the real Human Performance Laboratory  at the Coventry University in the UK found that NaHCO3 will not just for cyclists, runners and rowers, but also for "bench pressers" and "squatters" ;-)

One thing after the other, though!

If you know your SuppVersity articles by heart, you are probably thinking about the Kerr study from September 2012, now - right? For the average gymrat, this was probably the most exciting paper on the ergogenic effects of sodium bicarbonate supplementation I've written about (see "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" | read more).
A note for those with gastrointestinal problems or an insurmountable gag reflex: I know that downing 25g sodium bicarbonate at once can be disgusting and sends people with weaker stomachs right to the toilette. Fortunately, a 2012 study by Dreher et al. suggests that "serial loading" with several smaller servings of baking soda works at least as well | learn more
And while the Kerr study was among the first to demonstrate significant beneficial effects of sodium bicarbonate in a strength training scenario, it is - if you come to think of it, actually not that surprising to see that the H+ (=hydrogen ions → acidity) buffering effect works just as well during a high volume leg workout, as it does, during high intensity cycling and sprinting [just a note on the H+ buffer: contrary to beta alanine, bicarbonate buffers the acidity in the blood, not within the muscle cell and will thus have greater effects on the periphery than carnosine the histidine + beta alanine dipeptide you are actually looking for, whenever you take your beta alanine supplement.

Now while it may not have been surprising that high volume + baking soda does make a perfect match, it is, as you will hopefully agree, not exactly straight forward that we would see similar benefits on the low volume performance test, the 8  men (mean age, height and body mass → 20  ±0.9 years, 1.8  ± 0.1m and 78.4  ± 15.6kg, respectively)  who had been recruited for the study at hand had to perform.

Three sets of squats and bench presses? Isn't that too little volume for NaCO3 to work?

All the participants who had at least one year of strength training experience competed  in  team  games  (rugby  union,  soccer, basketball) at the national level and were concomitantly training more than 10 hours per week as part of their regular preseason preparations (those included 3h of resistance training). During the testing conditions to which the subjects had been randomly assigned, all of the performed
Learn about the best chest exercises in the SuppVersity EMG Series.
  • three sets of bench presses to failure at 80% 1RM, and 
  • three sets of back squats "to failure" at 80% 1RM
With three minutes of rest between the sets and five minutes of rest between exercises, this is, as I already mentioned, not exactly the workout you would usually expect to benefit (most) from bicarbonate supplementation. Still, the data in Figure 1 tells another story:
  • 0.3g/kg NaHCO3 in 5 ml/kg of artificially sweetened water (NaHCO3), instead of
  • 0.045g/kg NaCL in an artificially sweetened water drink matched for taste
60 minutes before the two blinded performance tests did the trick - it did increase the mean total reps for squats (+6.7 reps; +27%) and bench preses (+1.5 reps; +6% -- note: I used the values from the table in the full text. They differ from those in the abstract according to which the performance increase would be 7%)
Figure 1: Back squat and bench press performance in three subsequent sets (Duncan. 2013)
As it was to be expected due to the low volume and long rest between sets, there was no significant change in blood lactate across time or between conditions. There were however treatment × time interactions for blood pH (p = 0.014) and blood HCO3 concentration (p = 0.001), with the increasing pH and bicarbonate (HCO3) levels in the blood of the NaHCO group being the obvious cause of the highly significant performance benefits.
Does beta alanine hamper instead of improve your sprinting performance? Learn more in a previous SV Article.
Baking soda for strength athletes: After the previously cited study by Kerr et al. this is study #2 to prove that the usefulness of baking soda, sodium bicarbonate or NaHCO3 (call it whatever you want) is by no mean, as it was long thought to be, restricted to endurance sports with intermittent sprints. With the study at hand there is enough evidence to believe that it's acute effects are going to be present whenever you're pushing yourself to your own limits and in view of the fact that pushing to the limits, in order to raise the bar is what's driving progress.

I would therefore be curious to see a long(er) term study (8-12 weeks) taking a look at the cumulative benefits of sodium bicarbonate supplementation on strength and mass gains in trained and untrained individuals. Unfortunately, I suppose that no one with the money to finance that study will share my interest. In the end, a study like this would after all entail the risk of exposing how pathetic the 2.85% performance increase we see in the average beta alanine study actually are (Hobson. 2012).
  • Duncan MJ, Weldon A, Price MJ. The effect of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on back squat and bench press exercise to failure. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Oct 11. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Hobson RM, Saunders B, Ball G, Harris RC, Sale C. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012 Jul;43(1):25-37. 
  • 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.
  • Musabayane CT, Balment RJ. Renal effects of aldosterone in the sodium bicarbonate infused rat. Ren Fail. 1991;13(2-3):71-6.
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