Raising Kiwi chances of success at the Commonwealth Games

Dr Toby Mündel from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition.

Sodium bicarbonate, more commonly known as baking soda, is one of the most commonly used performance-enhancing substances by athletes. It is used by those performing repeated high-intensity/maximal efforts lasting less than one minute (for example, sprinting 100–400 metres) as it “soaks” up some of the acid produced by the muscle, thereby delaying fatigue.

However, no previous research has questioned whether this is effective when exercise is performed in a hot environment, such as will likely be happening to those competing at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast next month.

Now, new research from Dr Toby Mündel from Massey University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, has identified that sodium bicarbonate ingestion improves repeated sprint performance in the heat by the same magnitude it does in cooler environments.

“These findings should be of particular interest to some of the travelling New Zealand team, such as our track cyclists and paddlers [kayakers and canoeists] who often compete in multiple heats on a daily basis, each requiring maximal effort,” Dr Mündel says.

One frequent problem with sodium bicarbonate ingestion is that it can cause gastro-intestinal (GI) issues such as cramping, bloating and diarrhoea. However, Dr Mündel trialled a dosing regimen that overcame this issue.

“Instead of providing one large dose of sodium bicarbonate, we provided athletes with a much lower dose that was taken at regular intervals with meals throughout a whole day. None of the athletes complained of GI problems but all displayed the improved buffering capacity due to the sodium bicarbonate in their blood, making this an athlete-friendly method of consumption,” Dr Mündel says.

Sodium bicarbonate ingestion improves repeated high-intensity cycling performance in the heat was recently published in the journal Temperature.

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