A recent article in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance looked at the practicality of bicarbonate loading techniques in the pursuit of small gains in performance for competition and crucial training periods.

With fairly widespread use of this practice it was identified that athletes might benefit from guidance on dosage, timing of administration and avoidance of gastro-intestinal side effects.

The evidence

Bicarbonate loading has been studied since the 1980s and has been used essentially to reduce fatigue by helping the body to deal with accumulation of lactate and hydrogen ions during high intensity sports events. Traditional use of bicarbonate involves one dose of 0.3g of sodium bicarbonate per kilogram of body mass taken 60-90 minutes before exercise. This, however, has been shown to regularly result in gastro-intestinal distress.

A more recent method involves splitting a slightly larger dose over consecutive days before competition. Studies have looked at 0.5g per kilogram of body weight split into three of four smaller doses spread over the day or for three to five days before the event or exercise bout. Other investigations have looked at using sodium bicarbonate at a dose of 0.4g per kilogram of body mass for three days per week over an eight week period. Positive training adaptations have been shown in each of these studies.

Layman lowdown

Responses to bicarbonate loading seem to vary but there is little doubt that it can reduce fatigue during exercise leading to an improved performance. There is an issue regarding large doses of bicarbonate which can cause gastrointestinal distress. Spacing the

dosage seems to lessen the incidence of problems.

CW says

If you?re looking for a small improvement in performance for a time trial or race, bicarbonate loading is a valid route.