Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Beta Alanine + Bicarbonate = Synergistic Internal + External Muscle H+ Buffer With Disappointing Real-World Benefits

No matter what this study says, I am pretty sure that the combination of bicarbonate + beta alanine would rule for Tour de France cyclists - at least during the dreaded time-trials.
In a recent study researchers from the Victoria University and the Queensland University of Technology observed that the combination of the carnonsine pre-cursor beta alanine and sodium bicarbonate will elevate the buffering potential of skeletal muscle in eight apparently healthy, recreationally active men (26.2 ± 1.9 year; 79.8 ± 2.11 kg; 179.0 ± 2.2 cm; VO2peak 51.0 ± 2.5 ml/kg/min) by increasing muscle carnosine and blood bicarbonate levels, respectively.

So much for the good news, the bad news however is that the performance increases on a repeated sprint test were non-signficant and the expected additive effects of beta alanine and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) during a 110% cycling capacity test were non-existing.
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 trial participants were asked to complete 2 exercise tests, over consecutive days, at the end of each of the four co-supplement periods (see fig.  1).
Figure 1: Design of the study. Each trial consisted of two exercise tests performed over consecutive days. A total of 12 weeks between trials 2 and 3 was implemented to ensure adequate supplement washout time participants randomised to ingest β-alanine during the initial chronic supplementation. MRS Magnetic resonance spectroscopy, RSA repeated sprint ability test, CCT 110 %cycling capacity test. Solid  arrows depict crossover between acute supplementation (Pl and SB). Dotted arrows depict crossover between chronic supplementation (BAl and Pl; Danaher. 2014)
During the double-blind supplementation periods, the subjects consumed capsulated β-alanine (4.8g/day for four weeks, 6.4g/day for two weeks) or the placebo calcium carbonate (CaCO3). To investigate the superimposition of NaHCO3 (baking soda) with β-alanine, the acute administration of NaHCO3 occurred following each of  the 6-week periods of β-alanine and placebo supplementation.
Figure 2: The non-existing increases in peak and average performance with beta alanine and - with the exception of one outlier - bicarbonate supplementation is disappointing; value expressed relative to placebo trial.
This required two trials of either 300 mg/kg body weight sodium bicarbonate or a not wisely chosen "placebo", i.e. CaCO3 (While I have seen this repeatedly, I am asking myself how smart it really si to use calciumcarbonate as a placebo for a bicarbonate, if the carbonate will form HCO3 as soon as it is cleaved from the calcium ion?) , that was administered only once 90 min prior to the exercise bouts of the respective trials and was split into 6 equal doses over the first 50 min of the 90-min pre-exercise period.
Figure 3: Time to exhaustion, blood pH values during repeated sprint & cycling capacity @110% test (Danaher. 2014)
Bottom line: This is not the study to support the usefulness of bicarbonate and beta alanine supplementation for power athletes. It may be a study to support the usefulness of bicarbonate supplementation for Tour de France Trials, but it's also another study to show that the ergogenic effects of "buffers" outside of long(er) duration high intensity work like Tour de France time trials may be generally overrated.

With the study being underpowered, not 100% controlled in terms of the nutritional circumstances of the individual trials and questionable with respect to the use of calcium carbonate as a placebo supplement for sodium bicarbonate and beta alanine, I would be hesitant to discard the use of bicarb and beta alanine and a possible synergy. on the basis of the study at hand, though. Previous studies yielded different results.
  • Danaher, Jessica et al. "The effect of β-alanine and NaHCO3co-ingestion on buffering capacity and exercise performance with high-intensity exercise in healthy males." Eur J Appl Physiol (2014) 114:1715–1724