Athlete Drinking Out Of Water Batter With Blue Sky In Background Supplementing With Baking Soda Sodium Bicarbonate

Boost Your Performance Using Simple Baking Soda

BY Molly Breslin

Can a simple product found in any grocery store improve your performance by up to three percent? Understand how it works and how to supplement.

Want to improve your race performance by one to three percent but invest very little time, effort, and money? That sounds like a gimmick on an infomercial. And one to three percent isn’t really a whole lot – or is it? Let’s say you’re the 10th-place finisher in the male 30-34 IRONMAN 2014 World Championships. A one percent gain would take you from 10th to 4th place; a two percent gain would put you on the podium in the number two spot; a three percent gain would put you on the top step of that age-group podium. Not only would your race results be better but your overall enjoyment of the race may be enhanced as well.

Now that I’ve piqued your interest, you’re probably wondering how much money and time you would actually have to invest to achieve these gains. What would you say if I told you it was only a few minutes per week and could cost as little as $20 for your entire season of training and racing?

Ready to buy? All right then – run or bike down to the grocery store and pick up some generic sodium bicarbonate in the baking aisle. Yup, the one in that iconic yellow box labeled “baking soda.”

What is Sodium Bicarbonate

Let’s take an in-depth look at what exactly sodium bicarbonate is and how it works with our physiology to enhance training and racing performance. Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) is an alkaline salt. Alkaline means it is a substance that possesses a pH on the basic side (8.4 to be exact; 7.0 is neutral). A salt is a chemical compound that has a hydrogen ion replaced by a cation, which in this case is sodium. The chemical nomenclature for baking soda is NaHCO3. Sodium bicarbonate acts to buffer acids produced by the body during physical exertion. One of these acids is well known to us as lactic acid, and another less familiar one is carbonic acid.

Why pH Matters

Now let’s quickly review pH. Many of us use this term without understanding exactly what it means and how it impacts athletes. Simply put, pH is a numerical expression of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a logarithmic scale on which 7 is neutral. Lower values are more acidic, and higher values are more alkaline.

The pH is equal to -log10 (c), where c is the hydrogen ion concentration in moles per liter. More simply, the concentration of hydrogen ions in your blood (and body tissues) is inversely proportional to the numerical pH value. For example, if your pH is low then your hydrogen ion concentration is high and conversely, if your pH is high then your hydrogen ion concentration is low. So, more hydrogen ions equals more acidity. Human beings function optimally at a relatively alkaline (or basic) pH. The average pH of our blood is between 7.35-7.45. The optimal functioning of every system in our body is dependent upon the pH of our blood being in this range. Normalcy of pH also regulates electrolyte concentrations.

Your Body’s Acid Production

Our kidneys produce sodium bicarbonate constantly to keep our pH level in this very tight range of 7.35-7.45. As athletes, we produce two main byproducts as our muscles work. One of these used to be known as lactic acid, but is actually lactate. It was originally thought that anaerobic glycolysis created lactic acid, but it’s now understood that it creates lactate. But when lactate is transported to other tissues to be used as fuel, it is co-transported with a hydrogen ion. It’s believed that this increases the acidity of that tissue, causing fatigue or reduced performance, but it’s an ongoing area of research.

Your body also produces carbonic acid. Hardworking cells produce carbon dioxide, which combines with water (H2O) to form carbonic acid (H2CO3). Both of these acids serve to lower our blood pH levels, resulting in a relative acidosis that causes our intracellular machinery to falter and fail. Our muscle cell mitochondria are exquisitely sensitive to the lowering of blood pH.

The Benefits of Sodium Bicarbonate for Athletes

Theoretically, supplementation with sodium bicarbonate should delay the onset of fatigue and ultimately muscular (skeletal and cardiac) “failure” by assisting the body in maintaining a normal pH during high-intensity exertion. Delaying the onset of intracellular acidosis during exercise assists in maintaining a more homeostatic cellular environment that allows for optimal functioning and performance.

Sodium bicarbonate as an ergogenic aid has been studied extensively over the past 60 years. It’s a challenging topic of investigation because so many other variables are at play in the final determination of athletic performance, and none of these can be completely controlled. However, in a study that applied a meta-analytic technique to the results of 29 of the best-conducted studies on the topic, the statistical comparison indicates that not only does sodium bicarbonate enhance athletic performance, but it also improves exercise time to exhaustion by a mean of 27%.

Dosing Sodium Bicarbonate

Now that the mind-numbing biochemistry is out of the way let’s talk about timing and dosing. According to the 2021 International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: sodium bicarbonate and exercise performance, single-dose supplements of 0.2 to 0.3 g/kg of body weight show improvement in muscular endurance. For example, if you weigh 70kg, your dosing range would be 14 to 21 grams. It’s recommended to ingest it between 60 and 180 minutes prior to exercise in a minimum volume of 0.5 liters of water.

According to the same study, multiple-day protocols of supplementation are most effective in doses of 0.4 to 0.5 g/kg of body weight for three to seven days before competition.

Available Formulas

There are a variety of commercial formulations available. The grocery-store-variety baking soda from Arm and Hammer contains 0.6 grams of NaHCO3 per 1/8 teaspoon. Read the labels on baking soda products carefully and choose a product that just contains baking soda. Many products out there contain other additives, such as cornstarch. Also, make sure your product is fully dissolved in the water before ingestion. Drink slowly over 20 to 30 minutes. This may not be the most palatable concoction you’ve ever ingested; refrigeration can help with the taste as well as adding a very small amount of clear fruit juice or fruit-juice-based soda for flavoring.

If taking plain baking soda doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can supplement it in different ways. Since it’s used as an antacid for heartburn relief, you can usually find baking soda in over-the-counter tablet or capsule form in most drug stores. But keep in mind that these formulations are usually significantly more expensive and their absorption rate is variable. This make it difficult to know how much you need to hydrate with ingestion.

Many sports-specific nutrition/hydration companies are coming up with their own NaHCO3 supplementation solutions, one of them being Endurolytes Fizz by Hammer Nutrition. These tablets are designed to be dissolved in 16 oz of water and consumed during training and racing. Maurten recently released a gel form of supplementation (Biocarb System) that claims to be easier on the stomach. And if ingesting NaHCO3 really isn’t working well with your gut, you can try Momentous’s topical application that claims to give similar effects while bypassing any possible GI stress.

I know many athletes who “swear by” the bicarbonate-based enhancing properties of some of these products. I confess myself to anecdotally feeling as though they have provided me with a performance benefit. My advice is to find a supplementation strategy that works for you and see for yourself.

Side Effects of Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate can be classified as a medication, and as such, it has side effects. One of the more common side effects is gastrointestinal distress in the form of cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea. One of the ways to avoid suffering this is to start supplementation at a lower dose and slowly increase it to the recommended range. Beginning with a dose of 0.1 to 0.2 grams per kilogram of body weight is a good starting point. Increase your concentration over a series of workouts.

There are, unfortunately, some potentially more serious side effects. These include muscle cramping and spasms, weakness, tetany, irritability, cardiac rhythm disturbances (which can be fatal), apathy, and seizures. These are all related to shifts in electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and calcium) in the fluid compartments of your body. It also can alter prescription medication metabolism and can prolong or diminish the effects. I strongly encourage any athlete interested in utilizing NaHCO3 to consult with their healthcare provider first.

Additionally, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have high blood pressure and/or heart disease, suffer from kidney problems (even kidney stones), or have a history of electrolyte disturbances (including aldosteronism and Addison’s disease) you should not try sodium bicarbonate supplementation.

Use in Training Versus Racing

It’s best practice to not use something for the first time in racing that hasn’t first been trialed in training. If you experience any adverse effects with supplementation, you definitely want to experience these (if they occur at all) in a training venue. If NaHCO3 supplementation enhances your race performance, it will also enhance your training performance. And better training performance equates to better race results. Use the same dosing and timing for use in your training regimes, and see if you notice that extra one to three percent gain!


Chaudhry, R., & Varacallo, M. (2023, August 8). Biochemistry, Glycolysis. Retrieved from

Gladden, L. (2004, July 1). Lactate metabolism: a new paradigm for the third millennium. Retrieved from

Grgic, J. et al. (2021, September 9). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: sodium bicarbonate and exercise performance. Retrieved from

Maton, L., & Tran, V. (1993, March). Effects of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on anaerobic performance: a meta-analytic review. Retrieved from

Rogatzki, M., et al. (2015, February 27). Lactate is always the end product of glycolysis. Retrieved from

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About Molly Breslin

Molly is the founder, owner and lead coach of 22Tri.  She holds professional certifications in Sports Nutrition and Nutrition for Optimal Health and Wellness from San Diego State University. As an advanced practice nurse and an avid and accomplished multisport athlete, Molly recognizes that nutrition is the often-overlooked piece of an athlete’s training plan. Her mantra is: “Good nutrition and a sound nutritional plan will immeasurably enhance an athlete’s training and racing performance.” Molly works with athletes from the beginner to the elite level in triathlon, running, xc and randonee skiing, road cycling, and mountain biking. She writes for Training Peaks, USA Triathlon, CapoVelo and and runs seminars on sports nutrition and training clinics for running, swimming, cycling, and triathlon. Molly is also credentialed as a Health and Wellness Coach through Harvard University School of Medicine and American College of Sports Medicine affiliate Wellcoaches, and is a a certified Exercise Is Medicine professional through the American College of Sports Medicine.

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