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How to Get a Performance Boost from Baking Soda

By Jiri Kaloc

Baking soda seems to be re-emerging as a must-have, cutting-edge supplement. Cyclists have been using it for years but when Jumbo-Visma riders Primož Roglič and Wout van Aert gave a bicarb-based product thumbs up, the cycling world noticed. Let’s take a look at how this common household item can improve cycling performance and how to use it.

How does baking soda help exactly?

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, can improve cycling performance by acting as a buffering agent that helps neutralize the build-up of acid in the muscles during exercise. During intense exercise, the muscles produce lactic acid, which can lead to fatigue and a decrease in performance. Baking soda can help to reduce this build-up by increasing the pH level in the muscles, allowing cyclists to sustain their effort for longer periods of time. It has also been shown to improve muscle contraction and increase the amount of energy available to the muscles during exercise, further contributing to enhanced cycling performance.

What does Primož Roglič say about it?

Is baking soda scientifically proven?

A meta-analysis from 2022 that includes 158 studies showed that sodium bicarbonate supplementation does lead to small beneficial improvements in exercise performance. The size of the effect depends on the duration of the exercise bout.

  • Under 30 seconds there were no effects on performance.
  • 30 seconds to 10 minutes is where the greatest effects were observed. Examples events could be 200-400m swimming, 4km time-trial cycling, 2000m rowing, or 800-1500m running.
  • Over 10 minutes smaller improvements were observed. This was likely due to the occasional bouts of higher intensity that endurance athletes need to make to win races.

Catching up to a breakaway, taking over a competitor, or sprinting to the finish are all situations vital to overall performance. The authors of the study speculate that this is why sodium bicarbonate helps even in endurance events. They also said that baking soda may help in team sports where near-max efforts are performed with short recovery periods, as well as in 100-200m sprinters who benefit in their training rather than during the event.

How much and when should I take sodium bicarbonate?

It is recommended to take in 300 mg of sodium bicarbonate per 1 kg of body weight. This means that the average 75 kg cyclist would need to consume 22,5 grams of a very salty powder. It’s best to swallow it in capsules to avoid the unpleasant taste, blend with other ingredients, or buy products like the one from Maurten that Jumbo-Visma riders use. You can take the supplement anywhere from 1 to 3 hours before your race or training session as it remains stable in blood for many hours.

Careful about the side-effects

Unfortunately, consuming so much baking soda can come with some very unpleasant side-effects. Here is a list of the most common according to the research.

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

There are some strategies you can use to reduce the chance of developing these side-effects. Taking the supplement with a carbohydrate-rich meal seems to work best for most athletes. Capsules are also tolerated better than a drink. Everyone reacts differently so it’s important to test different quantities and delivery mechanisms in training before using sodium bicarbonate on race day.