Creatine + Sodium Bicarbonate: Two New Studies Show You Can Make the Most-Researched Ergogenic Even Better W/ a Few Grams of Baking Soda - Sign + Non-Sign Benefits

The benefits of bicarbonate show on the finish line, not the starting block.
As true students of the SuppVersity you will know that you can "Supercharge Your Creatine W/ Baking Soda" (learn more) and thus build your own "buffered creatine product". What you probably didn't know yet, though, is that there is evidence to prove that the increased stability and bioavailability will actually translate to performance gains.

You don't believe a word? Well, scientists from the Sheffield Hallam University (Griffen. 2014) and the Human Performance Laboratory at the University San Luis Obispo (Barber. 2013).
You can learn more about beta alanine & bicarbonate at the SuppVersity

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BA + Bicarb are Synergists

Bicarb Buffers Creatine

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Griffen et al. (2014) investigated the effects of creatine and sodium bicarbonate co-ingestion on mechanical power during repeated sprints.

Their subjects, nine well-trained men (age = 21.6 ± 0.9 yr, stature = 1.82 ± 0.05 m, body mass = 80.1 ± 12.8 kg) performed six 10-s repeated Wingate tests in a double-blind, placebo controlled, counterbalanced, crossover study. Before the exercise tests, the oarticipants supplemented with either
  • creatine and sodium bicarbonate contained 20 g/d of creatine monohydrate (Myprotein Inc., Northwich, UK), 0.3 g/kg of sodium bicarbonate (Buy Whole Foods Online, Canterbury, UK) and 0.5 g/kg of maltodextrin (Myprotein Inc., Northwich, UK). 
  • creatine alone, i.e. of 20 g/d of creatine monohydrate and 0.5 g/kg of maltodextrin, 
  • sodium bicarbonate alone, i.e. 0.3 g/kg of sodium bicarbonate and 0.5 g/kg of maltodextrin, or
  •  the placebo which contained only 0.5 g/kg maltodextrin. 
for one week. On the day of the exercise tests, however, no supplement was ingested (probably do exclude acute beneficial effects of bicarbonate). As far as the specifics of the dosing regimen are concerned, the scientists point out that the maltodextrin was added to all conditions to maintain the volume consistency and to facilitate creatine uptake (Green et al., 1996).

The split-dose strategy, on the other hand, was employed to reduce side effects from sodium bicarbonate supplementation (Burke & Pyne, 2007) - something you've read here at the SuppVersity before (Bicarbonate Serial Loading | learn more).
"Supplements were split into four equal dose to be consumed at 9 am, 12 pm, 5 pm and 9 pm. Participants were also instructed to ingest each supplement sachet with 330 ml of water diluted with 40 ml of orange cordial." (Griffen. 2014)
The degree of compliance reported was 86 ± 7% for co-ingestion of creatine and sodium bicarbonate, 89 ± 7% for creatine alone, 90 ± 7% for sodium bicarbonate alone and 93 ± 4% for the placebo. Participants were instructed to maintain their habitual diet and abstain from strenuous exercise, caffeine and alcohol 24 h prior to each trial.
Avoid gastrointestinal distress and still get all the benefits from bicarbonate supplementation by using a serial-loading protocol, as I described it in "The Latest on Sodium Bicarbonate: Serial Loading Almost as Effective as Acute Loading and Free of Gastrointestinal Side Effects. Plus: Can You Use Potassium Bicarbonate Instead?" | learn more.
The trials that were performed on a magnetically braked ergometer, began with a warm up at 50 RPM against a resistance of 0.5 kg for 5 min, with one 5 s sprint against a resistance of 7.5% of the participant’s body-mass after 2.5 min. Participants then completed six 10-s sprints using a standardised resistance equating to 7.5% body mass. One min of active recovery at 50 RPM was provided between each test. Participants were asked to cycle at a cadence of 50 RPM until the start signal to ensure the inertia of the system was not overcome by standardising the angular momentum of the flywheel (Winter & Fowler, 2009).
Figure 1: Changes in peak, mean and rel. power, total work and fatique index (W/s) relative to baseline (Griffen. 2014)
The results were somewhat disappointing, though, while both creatine (effect size (ES) = 0.37-0.83) and sodium bicarbonate (ES = 0.22-0.46) alone led to meaningful improvements on indices of mechanical power output, the co-ingestion of both provided performance increases that were not significant compared to creatine, alone (see yellow vs. gray bars in Figure 1).
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." (SIDS. 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 for the Schmidlin et al. showed that chloride loading induced hypertension in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat despite profound sodium depletion (Schmidlin. 2002). 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)
That's in contrast to another recently published study by from the the Human Performance Laboratory at the University San Luis Obispo (Barber. 2013).
Figure 2: Unlike Griffen, Barber et al. (2013) measured significant increases in rel. peak power.
As you can see in Figure 2, Barber et al. who compared the effects of (a) Placebo (Pl; 20 g maltodextrin + 0.5 g/ kg 21 maltodextrin), (b) Creatine (Cr; 20 g + 0.5 g /kg 21 maltodextrin), and (c) Creatine plus sodium bicarbonate (Cr + Sb; 20 g + 0.5 g /kg 21 sodium bicarbonate) on the performance of thirteen healthy, trained men (21.1 years, 23.5 kg /m²) in a double-blinded, crossover fashion:
"Each condition consisted of supplementation for 2 days followed by a 3-week washout. Peak power, mean power, relative peak power, and bicarbonate concentrations were assessed during six 10-second repeated Wingate sprint tests on a cycle ergometer with a 60-second rest period between each sprint." (Barber. 2013)
In contrast to Griffen, et al. (2014), the researchers from St. Lois found a 3% greater increase in relative peak power with Cr + Sb (7%) compared to creatine alone.

What may be of even greater practical relevance is the absence of performance decreases during sprint tests 4–6, compared with that in sprint 1, in both the placebo and creatine trial, respectively their absence in the Cr + Sb trials, where the sprint performance decreased only on spring #6!
This effect is probably directly related to the blood bicarbonate pre- and post-Wingate bicarbonate concentrations which were significantly higher in Cr + Sb (10%), compared with the Pl and Cr.
22g Baking Soda 60min Before a Old-School 4 x 12RM Leg Workout Allow for Significant 22 Rep Volume Increase | learn more
So what's the meaningful difference between the studies that explains the discrepant results? The age of the subjects was identical, both were trained, lean men in their early twenties (no detailed information in the Griffin study, but the subjects in the Barber study, were really fit and performed a high level of aerobic exercise training >5h/week and were accustomed to high intensity exercise >2h / week). The exercise test, a Wingate test with with 6x10s sprints was more or less identical, and the amounts of creatine and sodium bicarbonate that were ingested in four equal doses were not different, either... well, aside from the addition of maltodextrin which was present in all supplements only in the study by Griffin et al. (no effect).

The most significant difference, however, are allegedly minute differences in the supplementation and study protocol. For one, the supplements in the Barber study were ingested for only 2 days prior to the tests - in the Griffin study, it were 7 days. In contrast to the supplementation period, the wash-out period in the Griffin study was shorter. Only 7 days compared to 21 days in the Barber study. Both of these differences could explain the different outcomes.

In that, difference #1 (duration of the supplementation period) would make the bioavailability increase due to the addition of sodium bicarbonate to creatine more important, while difference #2 (different washout periods) is nothing but a methodological shortcoming, due to which the later trials would still be influenced by residual effects from previous supplementation periods (recent studies show that this could be specifically the case for creatine) | Comment on Facebook!
  • Barber, James J., et al. "Effects of combined creatine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation on repeated sprint performance in trained men." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 27.1 (2013): 252-258.
  • Griffen, C., et al. "Effects of Creatine and Sodium Bicarbonate Co-Ingestion on Multiple Indices of Mechanical Power Output During Repeated Wingate Tests in Trained Men." International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism (2014). 
  • Luft, Friedrich C., et al. "Sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride: effects on blood pressure and electrolyte homeostasis in normal and hypertensive man." Journal of hypertension 8.7 (1990): 663-670.
  • Schmidlin, Olga, et al. "Selective chloride loading is pressor in the stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rat despite hydrochlorothiazide-induced natriuresis." Journal of hypertension 28.1 (2010): 87.
  • SIDS, OECD. "Sodium Bicarbonate." (2002).
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.