Sodium bicarbonate for strength training?

Imagine: a gym near you organises a competition in which you have to do as many reps as possible of bench presses using your own bodyweight. In a case like this sodium bicarbonate might be of some benefit. Apart from that, sodium bicarbonate is pretty useless in strength sports, sports scientists at Coventry University in England discovered.

Sodium bicarbonate is a buffer. It neutralises the hydrogen ions/lactic acid released during intense physical exertion, and it extends the amount of time that athletes can keep going at high intensity.

For an overview of our postings on sodium bicarb click here. And yes, one of them is on the positive effects of sodium bicarbonate on strength training. It’s about an American study done in 2013, in which bodybuilders were able to perform longer sets after taking sodium bicarbonate.

The study we’re offering you today took place in Britain. The researchers gave eight experienced strength athletes 0.3 g sodium bicarbonate per kg bodyweight one hour before they started a small training session. On another occasion the researchers gave their subjects a placebo.

The researchers had dissolved the sodium bicarbonate in water. They used 5 ml water per 0.3 g sodium bicarb.

The workout consisted of three sets of squats, followed by three sets of bench presses. The load was 80 percent of the weight at which the subjects could just manage 1 rep – the 1RM. Between sets the subjects rested for three minutes.

Taking sodium bicarbonate increased the number of reps the subjects were capable of doing during the first exercise: the squats. The effect of sodium bicarbonate on the second exercise was minimal.



The researchers suspect that during the squats sodium bicarbonate supplementation not only helped the athletes perform more reps, but also caused them to become more fatigued. And as a result there was no visible ergogenic effect of sodium bicarbonate during the second exercise.

Three of the eight subjects developed stomach ache from the sodium bicarb supplement, but that did not impede their performance.

But even if your stomach and gut can stand sodium bicarbonate it’s not a supplement to use daily. A strength athlete weighing 80 kg would need 24 g, which contains 6 g sodium.

The average inhabitant of an industrialised country already consumes 10 g sodium daily – and that’s far too much. Nutritionists say that 6 g daily is the maximum we should consume.

High sodium intake levels lead to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and numerous other negative health effects. To up your daily sodium intake by another 6 g a day is not a sensible idea.

The effect of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on back squat and bench press exercise to failure.


Duncan, MJ, Weldon, A, and Price, MJ. The effect of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on back squat and bench press exercise to failure. J Strength Cond Res 28(5): 1358-1366, 2014-This study examined the acute effects of NaHCO3 ingestion on repetitions to failure and rating of perceived exertion in the back squat and bench press in trained men. Eight resistance-trained men took part in this double-blind, randomized crossover experimental study whereby they ingested NaHCO3 (0.3 g·kg body mass) or placebo (sodium chloride NaCl: 0.045 g·kg body mass) solution 60 minutes before completing a bout of resistance exercise (3 sets of bench press and back squat exercise to failure at an intensity of 80% 1 repetition maximum). Experimental conditions were separated by at least 48 hours. Participants completed more repetitions to failure in the back squat after NaHCO3 ingestion (p = 0.04) but not for bench press (p = 0.679). Mean ± SD of total repetitions was 31.3 ± 15.3 and 24.6 ± 16.2 for back squat and 28.7 ± 12.2 and 26.7 ± 10.2 for bench press in NaHCO3 and placebo conditions, respectively. Repetitions to failure decreased as set increased for the back squat and bench press (p = 0.001, both). Rating of perceived exertion significantly increased with set for the back squat and bench press (p = 0.002, both). There was no significant change in blood lactate across time or between conditions. There were however treatment × time interactions for blood pH (p = 0.014) and blood HCO3 concentration (p = 0.001). After ingestion, blood pH and HCO3 (p = 0.008) concentrations were greater for the NaHCO3 condition compared with the placebo condition (p < 0.001). The results of this study suggest that sodium bicarbonate ingestion can enhance resistance exercise performance using a repetition to failure protocol in the first exercise in a resistance exercise session. PMID: 24126895 [PubMed - in process] Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24126895

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