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The Buffering Effects of Extracellular Sodium Bicarbonate on Blood Lactate Levels

Author: Philip A. Crochen, Randall Luke Hembree, Darby Griff, Payton Donley

Troy University, Journal of Kinesiology & Sports Science


Sodium bicarbonate is a chemical compound with the formula NaHCO3-. It is a salt composed of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions. Sodium bicarbonate is a white solid that is crystalline but often appears as a fine powder. Sodium bicarbonate is commonly known as baking soda.

Athletes use many different techniques to enhance their performance, including training regimes, diets, and ergogenic aids. The use of ergogenic aids is believed to be widespread, with a variety of legal as well as illegal substances being used. Among the more popular ergogenic aids is the use of sodium bicarbonate, recognized as a “buffer.” This substance potentially provides the body with added resistance against fatigue caused by changes in acid-base balance brought about by a variety of exercise modes and durations. The popularity of buffering has generated a plethora of research dating back to the 1980s, which continues to date. The issues surrounding buffering revolve around the dosage size, timing of ingestion, and the type of exercise to benefit from the use of buffers. We have designed a study to test how our protocol and design produce results.

Bicarbonate occurs naturally in the body and works as a part of humans’ acid-base equilibrium mechanism. Bicarbonate is the most important buffering system in the body and is primarily regulated by the lungs. When the concentration of hydrogen becomes too high, hydrogen is donated to bicarbonate restoring homeostasis in the blood; represented by an ideal blood pH 7.4. Sodium bicarbonate is an alkaline substance with bland taste, found in household products such as baking soda (Stephens, 2008). When sodium bicarbonate is ingested in appropriate dosage, it mimics the effects of the natural bicarbonate buffering system within the blood. Studies have shown this to be an efficient ergogenic aid (Pruscino et al., 2008).

When performing short duration high intensity exercise, the first energy system used is the ATP phosphocreatine glycolytic energy system (ATP-PC). The ATP-PC energy is system is proficient in energy production, however it is very short lived. The system allows one to give “all-out “ effort, ranging between 10-30 seconds. When ATP-PC is depleted without recovery, lactic acid production occurs rapidly. Lactic acid quickly dissociates into lactate and hydrogen. As the hydrogen atoms accumulate in the body, metabolic and respiratory acidosis increases, which in turn begins to physiologically inhibit contractility as well as cause discomfort (Kucera, Shapiro, and Whalen, 1989). In whole, the addition of supplemental sodium bicarbonate in the body will put one in an alkaline state to buffer the accumulation of hydrogen atoms after lactic acid dissociates; and ultimately will delay the onset of fatigue. Theoretically, used an ergogenic aid, exercise bouts will be prolonged and more efficient.

Literature Review

Sodium Bicarbonate loading is a popular ergogenic aid used primarily by athletes in shorter duration, higher intensity sports. The potential benefits of using sodium bicarbonate ingestion on sports performance have been a topic-investigated since the 1980s. (Payne, 2007.) Fatigue, being the failure to meet the necessary power outputs or performance need to complete a given task can be related to muscle energy production such as the decline of ATP or the build up of metabolites. (McNaughton, Siegler, and Midgley, 2008). The research on sodium bicarbonate has been shown to show that sodium bicarbonate has the ability to buffer the build up of these metabolites and thus extend performance delaying the onset of fatigue.

When a human being is resting they have a normal muscle pH of 7.0. However, once a human has been stressed buy something such as exercise, there is a dynamic interplay that happens which causes the pH to move away from normal and move more towards an acidic base. After strenuous exercise muscle pH may fall to 6.8 and in the body there has to be a balance to remove the hydrogen ions. The metabolism will produce an acid such as lactic acid, which the body uses to remove those hydrogen’s, but eventually a person will hit their lactate threshold causing the accumulation of lactic acid to stop and the amount of hydrogen ions to continue to build. When sodium bicarbonate is added to the equation it is able to accept a proton from carbonic acid and help remove those hydrogen atoms, allowing performance to extend a bit longer than usual.


The purpose of this study was determine how using extracellular sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3-) to buffer Hydrogen (H+) accumulation when performing high intensity anaerobic exercise that produces lactic acid.

Method and Participants

For our experiment, we took a sample of ten people who regularly do CrossFit and were in the age range of college students (18-26). These participants would fit the standard of recreational athletes (are accustomed to exercising on most days of the week). When the participants came in for their first familiarization, we started off by giving them a health screening form and an informed consent form that they filled out. We had a total of seven male participants and three female participants. The methods that were used to recruit people to our study were through word of mouth, survey, texting, call, and Troy University College of Kinesiology, Health, and Promotion announcements.


We brought in the ten participants, seven male (N=7) and five female (N=5) in for an initial familiarization visit and two experimental trials. We had a double blind study. Subjects came in for the first test day in which they performed a dynamic warm up followed by a blood lactate measure via a finger stick using a sterile technique, then were tested on for their baseline five hundred meter row sprint, and then had three separate blood lactate measurements taken after via a finger stick using a sterile technique. There was then a seven day break before their final testing period in which the participants came in and performed the same trial as the baseline, except that ingested either sodium bicarbonate or the placebo calcium carbonate via the sodium bicarbonate protocol prior to the five hundred meter row sprint.


Each subject reported to the Crossfit Ilium, the location of where the testing took place, on three separate occasions. The purpose of the first visit was to familiarize the subject(s) with the Concept2 rowing machine. Visits two and three were the experimental trials separated by at least seven days. During the second visit, each subject was asked do perform a dynamic warm up consisting of fifty feet of; high knees, butt kicks, lunges, knee pulls, and burpee broad jumps. Then each participant had a baseline blood lactate measurement taken via a sterile finger prick, the Fisherbrand Safety Lancets, and the blood lactate was measured using a Nova Biomedical Lactate Plus Meter System with associated strips. The subject then rowed a five hundred meter sprint on the Concept2 rower as fast as possible. Each subject then had a blood lactate measurement taken via a sterile finger prick, the Fisherbrand Safety Lancets, and the blood lactate was measured using a Nova Biomedical Lactate Plus Meter System with associated strips at the tree minuet, six minuet, and nine minuet marks. The third visit was the same as the first, except 80 minuets prior to the test, each participant consumed wither sodium bicarbonate or calcium carbonate (placebo), via the sodium bicarbonate protocol. At 80 minuets you ingest a certain amount of pills based on your body weight with 300 mL of Gatorade and half a bagel. Ten minutes later ingest an equal amount of pills as the first dose with 300 mL of Gatorade and half a bagel. Ten minuets later ingest an equal amount of pills as the first two doses with 500 mL of water. Ten minuets later ingest an equal amount of pills as the pervious three doses with 500 mL of water. Then proceed with the rest of the test identically to the first testing trial.


The subjects performed one familiarization trials. This visit consisted of handing out health screening and consent forms where we explained the procedures of the experiment. We recorded height and weight as well as having them perform their first Concept2 familiarization trial. Once the subject was properly familiarized with the experimental protocols, they were ready to perform the experiment.


In this experiment, we measured several factors to see if sodium bicarbonate intake had any effect on blood lactate levels while performing a 500-meter time trial on a Concept2 rower. Prior to the row, we measured the subjects resting blood lactate level. Once the subject completed the row, the blood lactate was measured at the three, six, and nine minuet mark. The time in which the subject completed the row was also recorded. After these measurements, we saw what the results were and made a conclusion on whether sodium bicarbonate intake had an effect on a Concept2 500-meter row sprint.


We weighed each participant prior to each exercise test, taking their weight in kilograms. We used a dosage of seven hundred mg and nine hundred mg capsules and gave each subject the proper dosage based on the gram per kilogram requirement. We used this method to make the sodium bicarbonate supplements for each participant, and we used calcium carbonate as the placebo in this study


Figure 1.1


Figure 1.2

The difference in the Placebo group and Treatment group are shown in figure 1.2. Blood lactate levels peaked at the six-minute marker. The data suggests that there was a significant drug main effect on the peak of arterial blood lactate [Group P mean baseline +-/SD (2.0+/- 0.86), mean work at the six-minute mark (15.9+/- 6.24) Group T baseline mean +/- SD (1.88+/- .79), mean work at six minute mark (12.2+/- 1.68)]. The average baseline showed no significant change in either group (Group P, .0.12 > Group T), however, blood lactate measure at the six-minute mark showed significant change. Group P had a high of 21.8mmol/L blood lactate while Group T peaked at 14.6mmol/L blood lactate. The groups received four equal doses of 0.3g/kg of body weight of either calcium carbonate (group P) or sodium bicarbonate (group T). Intensity during the 500-meter row remained constant, with an average completion rate of 1.40:00 minutes (group P), and 1.37:00 minutes (group T). With the significant differences in arterial blood lactate levels, measured with a standard blood lactate analyzer; we concluded that the buffering effects on hydrogen accumulation with the coherent lactate dissociation, is significantly reduced when treated with a sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3-) supplement. Subjects in group T were able to reduce lactate production by an average of 3.7 mmol/L compared to group P. This suggests an identical reduction in H+ production as well. After the test, subjects offered a verbal pain perception report according following the guidelines: stop = incomplete test, sore = in pain, good = challenging, no pain = no residual pain. Compared to pre-treatment testing, all of group T went from “sore” or “challenging” to “no pain” but one subject (N=1). All of group P remained in the “sore” and “challenging” range. Reduction in pain perception and blood lactate levels in the treatment group suggests a significant drug main effect on the buffering of H+ in arterial blood. The data supports our hypothesis, however more research is needed to be conducted in order for our findings to be regarded as conclusive data on the topic.


We had a few variables that could have been changed to show different results. We could have recruited a larger pool of participants to accommodate for any possible withdrawals. Possible changes to be made for future studies would be to use trained rowers, such as those at a college or professional level instead of recreational athletes. We feel with a longer period of time for recruitment of participants, more visits for trials and analysis of data, we could present more (Osborne, 2011:Payne, 2007:Stephens, T. J., 2002:Price, 2003:McNaughton, L.R., 2008:Palmer, 1999:Shelton, J., 2010:Driller, M.W., 2013:Siegler, Midgley, Polman et al., 2010:Siegler, J.C., 2012) significant numbers.


We found that sodium bicarbonate has a significant effect on the lactate levels. Based on the variables we compared, we conclude that our research matches up with the significant amount of research that has been don’t on sodium bicarbonate and lactate levels.


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McNaughton, L. R., Singler, J. (2008). Ergogenic effects of sodium bicarbonate. American College of Sports Medicine , 230-236.

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