In the gym, your muscles burn and lose power because of the buildup of lactic acid. This has led some supplement companies to include acid-buffering agents such as sodium bicarbonate or calcium carbonate in their pre-workout products. A study published last year has indicated that supplementing with sodium bicarbonate may indeed improve total reps performed when weight resistance training.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 12 resistance trained men in their early 20s performed 4 sets of 10 to 12 rep maximum load in the squat, leg extension and leg press with a short rest period between sets. One group received 300 milligrams of sodium bicarbonate per kilo of bodyweight 1 hour before training, while the other group received a placebo. Performance was measured by total reps performed per exercise, total accumulated reps for all exercises, and a final performance test of leg extensions to failure. At four points during the exercises, blood samples were taken to measure serum pH and lactate levels.

Compared to the placebo group, the group that received sodium bicarbonate performed significantly more total repetitions. The researchers noted that the supplementation induced an alkaline state, which may be the reason for the improved performance of the supplementation group.

Before you rush home, however, and start scarfing down sodium bicarbonate, keep in mind two things. First, the doses used in this study were very high, and not enough research has been done about the long term health effects of chronic high doses of sodium bicarbonate. The second thing is that sodium bicarbonate can cause abdominal cramps, discomfort and diarrhea in many people. This may be even more prevalent for high doses. So while it may help you move more weight in the gym, you have to ask yourself if it is worth it if it makes you feel unwell.


Carr BM, Webster MJ, Boyd JC, Hudson GM, Scheet TP, Sodium bicarbonate supplementation improves hypertrophy-type resistance exercise performance, European Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 113, Issue 3, p. 743 - 752, March 2013.

Monday, January 27, 2014