Caffeine & Bicarbonate - Individuality is Key: Using Supps That Work for You Make a >90% Performance Difference

Right vs. wrong supps can make a victory or defeat difference of >90%.
I've written about the individual response to caffeine and bicarbonate before. To tackle both of these ergogenic supplements I can actually recommend, however, based on a single study that as just been published in the Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism is news. The study was conducted at the Derby University's Department of Life Sciences, Sport, Outdoor & Exercise Science (Higgins. 2016) and evaluated the effects of ingesting sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) or caffeine individually or in combination on high-intensity cycling capacity.

In a counterbalanced, crossover design, 13 healthy, noncycling trained males (age: 21 ± 3 years, height: 178 ± 6 cm, body mass: 76 ± 12 kg, peak power output (Wpeak): 230 ± 34 W, peak oxygen uptake: 46 ± 8 mL·kg−1·min−1) performed a graded incremental exercise test, 2 familiarisation trials, and 4 experimental trials.
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Trials consisted of cycling to volitional exhaustion at 100% W peak (TLIM) 60 min after ingesting a solution containing either
  • 0.3 g·kg−1 body mass sodium bicarbonate (BIC), 
  • 5 mg·kg−1 body mass caffeine plus 0.1 g/kg body mass sodium chloride (CAF), 
  • 0.3 g·kg−1 body mass sodium bicarbonate plus 5 mg/kg body mass caffeine (BIC-CAF), or 
  • 0.1 g·kg−1 body mass sodium chloride (PLA). 
Experimental solutions were (supposedly) administered double-blind (which is difficult imho, because bicarb and salt taste different, but alas).
Figure 1: Tabular overview of the rate of perceived exertion (RPE_L = legs, RPE_O = overall cardiovascular strain | left) and blood pH over time (right) during the four trials (Higgins. 2016).
The first and most obvious effect of treatments (BIC) and (BIC-CAF) was a significant increase in pH, base excess, and bicarbonate ion concentration ([HCO3−]) compared to the CAF and PLA trials.
Another new study supports lower dose (0.3g/kg) bicarbonate for resistance training: The study was conducted by a Bachelor student from the University of Tempa. The purpose of the study was to investigate whether the ingestion of sodium bicarbonate (SB) pre-exercise improved athletic performance during resistance training (RT) and reduced fatigue in male college students. In the study, ,ale college students performed 1RM and endurance tests before their own individualized RT program 4 times a week during the 4 week study. The SB group produced higher increases in mean weight used in each of the 1RM tests (P < 0.05) compared to the placebo group. The SB group also produced a higher amount of repetitions in the IDP, LP, and LPD endurance tests (P < 0.05). There was a significant difference in each self-report scale (P < 0.05) between the SB group and the placebo group. "These findings suggest that the supplementation of SB prior to RT in college male students could enhance performance," (Indorato. 2016) the author concludes.
The effect on TLIM (time to volitional exhaustion) was unfortunately less obvious - for all three active treatments, by the way. When all subjects were considered, ...
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    there was a significant increase in TLIM for CAF (399; 350–415 s; P = 0.039; r = 0.6) and BIC-CAF (367; 333–402 s; P = 0.028; r = 0.6), but only compared with BIC (313: 284–448 s), yet not compared with PLA (358; 290–433 s; P = 0.249, r = 0.3 and P = 0.099 and r = 0.5, respectively), 
  • there were no differences between PLA and BIC (P = 0.196; r = 0.4) or between CAF and BIC-CAF (P = 0.753; r = 0.1), and 
  • there was no effect whatsoever on the rate of perceived exertion (RPE | Figure 1, left).
The "average" effect does yet not tell you the full truth about the potential ergogenic effects of caffeine and bicarbonate. Why? Higgins et al. found very large inter- and intra-individual variations, when they compared the individual treatments (see Figure 2, right).
Figure 2: Mean +/- SD (left) and individual (right) response to the treatments (Higgins. 2016).
Accordingly, the scientists rightly highlight that optimal supplementation strategies require individualization. Using supplements that work for you can, after all, make a performance difference of 81%, 92% and 63% (max. vs. min responders) for bicarbonate, caffeine and the combination of both (all values relative to T_LIM in the placebo trial).
Caffeine has many benefits, but also potential downsides you should know about to make an educated decision based on science and your individual response to caffeine | learn more
Fine. So shall I use bicarbonate and caffeine or not? I cannot tell you that. Why? Well, it depends on how you react to these proven ergogenics. The only way to find out is to testdrive both - on their own and together. Plus: A study investigating the maximal cycling time at 100% of your peak wattage doesn't tell you sh*t about the effects on your performance during other physical activities like resistance training (the study in the red box, does, though).

Luckily, the new study by Indorato is not the only one to show bicarbonate (example) has, just like caffeine, by the way (example), ergogenic effects . This doesn't mean that either of them will necessarily work for you, but it is a good reason to trial both | Leave a comment on Facebook!
  • Higgins, et al. "Evaluating the effects of caffeine and sodium bicarbonate, ingested individually or in combination, and a taste-matched placebo on high-intensity cycling capacity in healthy males." Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. (2016).
  • Indorato, Daniel. "Enhanced Resistance Training Performance via the Neutralization of Lactic Acid with Sodium Bicarbonate." Student Pulse 8.03 (2016).
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.