Try to imagine this. Grabbing what you thought was a bottle of water after finishing an indoor mile race one year, to quench your dry throat only to find out that it wasn’t yours. It’s your teammate’s. To make matters worse, it isn’t even water but a bottle full of baking soda! The shock you get from the unexpected taste could really make you throw up.
Baking soda is usually and most commonly known to be an ingredient in your favourite cake. Your mom might sometimes use it to clear the clog down your sink but it seems that baking has more important use than we all think. Fortunately, I learned from that incident that baking soda, surprisingly, could boost your performance. It is actually one of the largest-studied ergogenic aids.
It might sound astonishing, but it is actually simple. When we exercise hard, our muscles and blood become more acidic. Baking soda acts as a base that somewhat counteracts the acidification. Following this concept, taking baking soda then, would allow you to exercise longer than you normally would before you feel completely worn out.
Researchers from Saarland University in Germany conducted a study if baking soda could also give the same effect on longer events. The study involved 18 trained runners who performed two endurance tests which consisted of thirty minutes. Their anaerobic threshold had been measured during a VO2 max test done previously which was 90%.
On the first test, they were given baking soda and held a record of 39.6 minutes to exhaustion and 39.3 minutes with saltwater placebo. There was not much noticeable difference in the endurance of the runners.
The result did not exhibit difference in the time-to-exhaustion performance but it did show some interesting points. The runners showed noticeable higher running speed performance before they got totally exhausted. The runners may not have run longer but they did run faster! This only shows that baking soda may not help endure longer in 10k runs but it could make you run a little faster in the last kilometre or quarter of a mile.
It has been generally concluded in the studies that baking soda offers only a small boost in performance. The effect is noticeable in hard races that last for up to ten minutes. This is when we usually do exercises expected to have highest levels of lactate and greater acidity. There is a possibility though that the result would vary depending on the gastrointestinal condition of the individual. It could cause diarrhea for some and of course, you wouldn’t be able to perform at your best in that situation.
The study however encountered a stumbling block. Some of the participants experienced gastrointestinal effects from baking soda. From the original 25 participants, there were a number who couldn’t proceed with the experiment due to diarrhea, vomiting/nausea, and dizziness which left only 18. Therefore, on second thought, be sure that you have a strong stomach before considering baking soda as booster. You might end up racing for the toilet instead!
In the test, the runners’ Blood pH showed quite elevated acidity at the end of the Vo2 max test. The data however, displays that going acidic doesn’t actually help in pushing you to exhaustion in longer events.
Moreover, beta-alanine had been found out to function in the same way as baking soda in a study conducted a few years prior. Beta-alanine however, counteracts acidity directly in the muscles cells and not in the bloodstreams. The participants was conduction on a group of cyclists who also showed increased average power in the final 30-second dash of about 5 percent compared to placebo.
Baking soda did help me run my big race and earned me a spot in the nationals. This is because my teammate ran only one race of the 4 runs scheduled to him as he exploded with diarrhea after loading baking soda on his first race. Well, I just happened to be the alternate. I guess I have to thank baking soda for the indirect help.