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  • Mark Blackwell

    The picture says it all… “for cleaning, deodorizing and baking”. The thought of downing 21g of bicarb first thing in the morning is a step too far for me. Interesting article though.

  • Tim David

    Anyone got an ethical issue with this approach? Seems much like doping to me, regardless of its legality.

    • Lisa

      I agree. I think it’s partly because the quantity is so extreme. For example, caffeine can have benefits, but the difference between a coffee before a race and this feels pretty big. Although apparently it can be useful for horses (seems like a good reason to steer clear!). Plus, anyone make hokey pokey as a kid? I saw what bicarb did when making it – seriously cool to watch, don’t think I want it anywhere near my gut when I’m on a bike, let alone racing one! Sure, you can get in to all the detail and testing and get it just right for ‘you’, but even then seems like a lot of uncontrollable variables.

      • choppy

        bicarb use was rampant in horse racing when it was discovered that it is a masking agent for other drugs in urine and blood tests. controlling bodies then had to set a threshold which is under the cut off for test interference. Not sure if it is the same in humans but horses apparently don’t get the same gut problems from it, so were dosed at high levels mixed with harder drugs.

    • Stompin

      The same could be said of coffee, caffeine… how many cups a day before it becomes an ‘ethical issue’?

      • Tim David

        Cups of coffee no issue for me.

        ‘Taking’ caffeine tablets for athletic reasons – nope.

        Personal ethics. No need for all to agree.

        • warnschild

          I’m not sure about that though: In a race where they provide Coke at the feedzones, you won’t need caffeine tabletts. But how about long races where they don’t? If you don’t take ultra-high doses, but take a tablett (easy to transport). What’s the difference?

      • Chuck6421

        The same could also be said about carbo loading, no?
        Back in the day when I raced Cat. 2, I used the then-accepted method of a week of bonking leading up to great quantities of carbs the day before competition to great effect. Did I cheat?
        Just as a rhetorical question, where do we draw the line?

        • Wily_Quixote

          Just so you know… ‘bonking’ has a completely different meaning for british readers. Although i am glad you had such a fun week before competing.

          • Chuck6421

            Omg, I don’t want to know!
            Ok, depleting my glycogen resources?
            Tx for the laugh!

    • jules

      I don’t see the problem.

      • Dave

        Same here.

        It sounds little different to drinking Gatorade.

    • Mark Blackwell

      I can see what you mean, but I think that “doping” is well defined by the doping agencies ie. they meet at least two of the three following criteria: they enhance performance, pose a threat to athlete health, or violate the spirit of sport. The third one is the real judgment call, and I guess if you feel like it violates the spirit of the sport you won’t do it, but from an organised event point of view, we have to run with the views of a governing body.

    • JBS

      Is it doping? No.

      Why not? Because WADA says its not.

      Is the WADA position ethically and/or scientifically supportable? We could argue in circles and for hours, and never come to consensus. Too much of the question is wrapped up in individual beliefs and ideology, and those are arguments that nobody ever wins.

    • Rohan Christmas

      No problem at all. It’s the main ingredient that is added to plain flour to turn it into self raising flour.

  • Dave

    Just make sure you don’t get a dodgy pharmacist to help you with it.

  • martin

    I’ll stick to coffee

  • Steve G

    Nothing better than a ride then suddenly shitting yourself…

  • kamoteQ

    I’d still like to know the reason Twinlab stopped the production of its Phos Fuel. Swore by it then.

  • adam

    As raised earlier by Tim D. the failure to discuss the ethics of such a practice seems like a considerable gap in this article.

    Does the author support the use of this substance from an ethical perspective, or not? Either way, how did they form such a view? Does it fit within DAA/SDA ethical guidelines? Either way, how?

    • Alex Simmons

      Ethical considerations are an issue for any supplement but they are context specific. Ethical considerations are not the same as (anti) doping ones. There is overlap for sure but there are also important differences.

      For adult competitors, then anything that isn’t defined as doping or isn’t illegal or won’t cause harm is probably reasonably ethical, but it would be unethical IMO to use such supplements with a junior athlete. So, same substance can result in different ethical stance depending upon context.

      What would be less ethical/unethical is use of a substance that has not been adequately studied for its effects, or not for its intended purpose where the unintended effects are unknown or is know to cause harm, or administered without consent or to someone not capable of giving such consent.

      Bicarb is pretty normal, very well studied and hardly unethical if used reasonably. But as another poster points out with their Impey joke, as with all substances one must be careful in administration as potential for cross contamination (very real) is high with most supplements.

      i try to explain the subtle differences between unethical / doping / illegal with a Venn diagram:
      http://i220.photobucket.com/albums/dd226/ASimmons/8c2849ce-2bd8-4955-80bc-d56f6260561e_zpsc2bb9e13.jpg

      So for an adult that understands what they are doing, then bicarb falls into section A (along with eating food, drinking non-alcoholic fluids, breathing, sleeping), but administration to a junior would IMO move it into section D.

      Another similar substance that has demonstrated beneficial performance impacts on longer duration aerobic events (e.g. 16km TT) is tribasic sodium phosphate. Harder to obtain and can cause severe gastric distress in some, one needs to be very careful when experimenting with such stuff.

      • Dave

        Excellent post.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think using bicarb sounds any different to using an electrolyte drink like Gatorade in terms of its ethical implications.

        Cycling Australia considers electrolyte drinks to be supplements, and therefore they should be out of bounds according to their junior racing policy.

        • Wily_Quixote

          i don’t have a massive issue with taking bicarb but i see it as different ethically to gatorade consumption.
          Electrolyte drinks are about restoration back to your normal trained baseline performance; bicarb is about improving performance above your trained baseline.
          I am not prepared to get into a massive argument about it because i think that it is a pretty minor issue but there is an ethical distinction, albeit small.

          • Alex Simmons

            Indeed. Part of the context for ethical considerations will always be subjective and as such the lines will be fuzzy and often there will be no right or wrong. Using your example, having some caffeine/strong coffee is also pushing ethical buttons since it’s about improving performance over a trained baseline, yet most of the world would not consider it unethical for an adult to drink a strong cup of coffee before a ride/race, yet somehow ingesting the same dose of caffeine via a pill is dubious. Why?

            • Wily_Quixote

              There is no difference between intentionally taking a performance enhancing dose of caffeine and 25 tablets of sodium bicarbonate that achieves the same effect.
              Social or cultural ingestion of coffee without this intent is different, of course.
              Because coffee ingestion is a cultural norm using it for performance seems less problematic and discriminating intent to abuse from normal, albeit heavy, consumption by regulatory authorities is fraught.

              • Paul Jakma

                The issue with bringing ‘intent’ into it, of course, is that it doesn’t make for easy to apply rules.

                Criminal legal systems often do, but making decisions about which rules have been broken becomes a lot more time consuming and expensive then.

            • Nomad

              A few years ago I did some research on caffeine as a performance enhancing substance. Interestingly, caffeine as a beverage has some ergogenic benefits, but not nearly as effective as caffeine in anhydrous pill/capsule or powder form.

              Some of the best data I’ve seen on this was a meta-analysis done by the International Society of Sports Nutrition; giving their position stand on caffeine & performance:

              https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-7-5

              The findings from various studies with certain dosages of anhydrous caffeine on endurance exercise showed a significant performance effect, particularly with submaximal effort in distance running and cycling time trialing (e.g., increased work capicity, increased time to exhaustion, and an improvement in VO2max cited in one study).

              Additionally, here’s a recent RCT with impressive results specific to cycling time trialing:

              “Effects of dietary nitrate, caffeine and their combination on 20-km time trial performance.” (Glaister et al/J Strength Cord Res/2015):

              http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24978834

          • Paul Jakma

            Sodium bicarbonate _IS_ an electrolyte. In solution the sodium and bicarbonate disassociate. Further, sports drinks *contain* sodium citrate – which is basically sodium bicarbonate and citric acid reacted together – for the exact same reason: It acts as a Ph buffer.

            • Wily_Quixote

              Thanks, I am familiar with the chemistry. But that’s not what my post is about. It is about the difference between using a substance to restore performance to the riders baseline (I.e food, water) or using a substance to increase performance from the baseline – in effect to boost normal performance during competition.
              That the substances discussed are electrolytes and not, for example, steroid hormones is irrelevant to the principle.

              • Paul Jakma

                Well, your body can not function without sodium and bicarbonate. Sodium ions are critical to a whole bunch of bio-chemical functions in your body. Bicarbonate is a crucial part of metabolism and the body’s pH blood buffering too – it will produce it if needs be.

                • Wily_Quixote

                  You are just describing a kind of naturalistic fallacy – if indeed you are addressing my point at all.

                  This is not about the function of electrolytes in the body it is about the ethics of supplementation. If you are really contending that there is no ethical distinction between ingesting electrolytes to maintain homeostasis and ingesting electrolytes above that requirement to increase performance than lets hear your argument.

                  • Paul Jakma

                    Wily,

                    Perhaps I’m not addressing your point, cause it’s a hard point to address. Where’s the line between “food” and “doping”? I’m not /100/% sure on that one myself.

                    On sodium-bicarbonate: Sodium is an absolutely essential substance, particularly for nervous system and muscle cell signalling. I put ?rd tsp of sodium bicarbonate in my drinks bottle, along with a pinch of potassium salt (usually sold as “reduced sodium” salt – i.e. about 50:50 to 66:33 sodium:potassium) to avoid cramps. You absolutely must eat sufficient sodium. Bicarbonate similarly is a fundamental part of blood chemistry to support metabolism and the transport of CO2 to the lungs, and pH-stabilise the blood against other metabolic products. Your kidneys can produce more bicarbonate if needed, but do so slowly apparently – so taking in extra bicarbonate can help.

                    The question then is, is consuming sodium bicarbonate “doping” or “eating”? If it is OK to over-consume complex sugary hydro-carbons in advance of expected effort that will deplete those supplies (i.e. “carb loading”), then how is over-consuming a very simple & elemental sodium-hydro-carbon (which we must consume) in advance of expected efforts that will deplete those supplies any different to that?

                    • Wily_Quixote

                      I didn’t state that carb loading is any different to overloading bicarbonate. I just stated that there is an ethical distinction to be made. And, yes, perhaps carb loading falls into the same category.

                      I’m not convinced it is an egregious offence against sport – after all there may not be any competitive advantage given that anyone can do it. But if people are going to rail against EPO or testosterone or hydrocortisone perhaps their own practices should be looked at as well.

                    • Paul Jakma

                      Hi Wily, Interesting discussion this on a tricky topic. Thanks. :)

                      I think there’s a fairly bright line between:

                      * elemental nutrients, which are present in many food-stuffs, which we must consume simply to continue living, as well as to replenish and build the reserves needed for athletic performance, and doing so by the normal physiological processes for consuming nutrients (normally prepared food, eaten by mouth).

                      * Adding hormones to our system, which tend not to occur naturally in foods in significant amounts, which our body produces all it needs as part of the self-regulation processes these hormones are part of, via medical means (tablets or sprays administered by mouth; sub-cutaneous or intra-venous injection by syringe)

                      At a practical level, it would be next to impossible to find a ‘line’ between eating ‘normally’ and ‘overloading’. So it would be impossible to ban carbohydrate or sodium-bicarbonate loading. So the first class we should just accept that managing nutrition for performance is part of sport.

                      However, for the second, there is 0 need for anyone healthy and fit to be taking exogenous hormones. Further, it’s pretty easy to not take them. It’s very easy to draw a line: Just don’t do it.

                      That leaves questions like caffeine and beta-2 agonists.

                      On caffeine, as others have mentioned it has significant effects on performance, but is hard to ban because regular use is accepted and normal in many cultures. It was banned for a while.

                      Then there are the beta-2 agonists, which have muscle leaning and building effects over time. Clenbutoral was banned, but more and more riders in recent times – the top ones particularly – seem to regularly take beta-2 agonists prescribed for exercise-induced asthma. If a person needs a performance-enhancing drug, should they still compete (and yes, asthma is bad, alleviating that is fine; the PED issue isn’t on that, but on the long-term effects of these substances on fat and protein content of muscles).

      • Lyrebird_Cycles

        Re TSP being harder to obtain: go to your local homebrew shop, it’s routinely used as beer line sanitiser. If nothing else you’ll have a nice clean oesophagus (unless it comes back up).

      • Ghisallo

        Thanks, Alex. I’m responsible for a junior racer, and your post really helps clarify where and why to draw the line on supplements, etc. He will not be experimenting with bicarb or even coffee/caffeine — most definitely not. I learned recently that a junior taking the latter can even lead to a medical emergency.

        Juniors sleeping in altitude tents would probably go in section D too, would you say? I ask because I know of at least one by his own admission who does such (in the USA), and my impression is that it is not too uncommon. I find this to be troubling. Young racers really ought to be prevented from falling into an “arms race” mentality; it’s a habit of mind that can lead to some very bad decisions later in life, in my opinion.

        • Alex Simmons

          Altitude tents are an interesting case. For a junior I think you are right to be cautious, only because they are a piece of machinery and its set up and use carries some risk and it should not be done unsupervised.

          Yes, I agree that juniors first need to work on the big picture things and nail those and have instilled good principles, such as a commitment to their training, good diet, sleep, learning/applying good behaviours, skills development, learning about application of tactical and strategic race situations, riding etiquette, becoming increasingly self sufficient (prep, food, mechanical knowledge), showing respect for others, teamwork, developing road riding and traffic nouse, having fun (important) and so on – foundations for having a long and enjoyable racing career on a bike no matter whether it is at high levels or just local amateur fun.

          Nevertheless, there is also nothing wrong with a junior learning and understanding the sound ways in which they can legitimately improve performance, better that than turning to illegitimate means. For example I coached a junior who was keen to improve their aerodynamics within the constraints they had (UCI rules, resources). It helped them to become a junior national and continental champion and get a ticket to race world championships for their country. In their case selected ahead of juniors that were doping. The ethical thing to do was to use legitimate means such as aerodynamics optimisation to overcome his doping (but less intelligent) counterparts. As an older junior, we also used altitude acclimatisation to aid his performance, but not via tents, instead we had the opportunity for him to live in locations that provided such benefit.

          So other than making sure a junior has a good attitude and placing primary emphasis on development activities listed in para 2 above, what’s the difference between someone that has supervised use of a tent with someone that can train at lower altitude then goes home to a higher altitude to sleep? Is there really a difference between altering the partial pressure of O2 in a room and changing the room’s humidity level or its temperature? Putting a roof over our heads to keep out the wind, rain and cold is artificially changing the sleeping environment as well. Altitude tents and rooms are essentially replicating conditions that can be attained via “natural” means and are available to those that happen to have locations at altitude. As I say, context is important.

          Yet such equipment is illegal in Italy. Go figure.

          I’m aware of some people using intermittent hypoxic training on young juniors (via breathing masks and regulators while riding indoor trainer), which I do consider to be unethical. IHT is pretty dubious from a performance improvement standpoint anyway and as such I only see a downside risk.

          • Ghisallo

            Thank you for taking the time to make such a detailed response. There’s much to consider in there.

    • Hi Adam,

      Interesting question. To add some more context to the comments comparing Gatorade to bicarb or say caffeine, sport dietitians tend to view supplements in four main groups:

      – Sports foods – Products that provide nutrients in similar quantities that could be obtained from food, but in a form that’s more convenient for a given situation (eg. sports drinks, gels and bars as sources of carbohydrate during exercise, protein powders and bars post-exercise)

      – Vitamin & mineral supplements – Individual (eg. iron tablets) or multi-nutrient (eg. multivitamins) supplements designed to correct a nutrient deficiency for whatever reason.

      – Ergogenic aids – Nutrients/substances taken in much greater quantities than you could practically get from food in order to achieve a performance benefit (caffeine tablets/gels, bicarb, creatine, beta-alanine, etc.)

      – Complementary/herbal products – this is a minefield of products that make a variety or both health and performance claims, with varying degrees of evidence to support/not support them.

      And of course there’s a multitude of multi-ingredient products that straddle several categories, the majority marketed at the gym industry (pre-workouts, protein plus 25 other ingredients, etc.).

      Like many others here have already posted I wouldn’t necessarily view sodium bicarb as different or special compared to other ergogenic aids (ie. caffeine in ergogenic doses). But I (and I’m sure most people) would view ergogenic aids quite differently to sports foods.

      In terms of ethics I think Alex’s diagram is a great one. Dietitians tend to be a mostly conservative bunch and adopt a “food first” philosophy. That is, get everything optimised with normal eating first (which could bring about large performance benefits) before worrying about supplements if and when appropriate (which typically show performance benefits in the range of 1-4%). In my own practice, I tend not to even discuss ergogenic aids with recreational athletes unless they specifically ask me about them. With elite athletes (and studies suggest that >90% of elite athletes use some form of supplements) I tend to enquire about their own personal philosophy on supplements rather than pushing my own opinion on them. I don’t normally have to ask them though – they usually beat me to it. But it’s certainly not the main focus of our sessions or planning.

      As far as ethical guidelines go, Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) released a position statement on nutrition for adolescent athletes in 2014. “…it is the position of SDA that nutrient needs should be met by core foods rather than supplements, as the recommendation of dietary supplements to developing athletes over-emphasizes their ability to manipulate performance in comparison with other training and dietary strategies”.

      SDA also hosted a supplements symposium in 2014 which included speakers presenting a variety of viewpoints including regulatory, anti-doping and batch testing, coaches, athletes and industry. One of the more interesting speakers was Sean Eadie from NSWIS – his philosophy as a track cycling coach was that elite athletes and coaches will continue to experiment with supplements whether sports dietitians like it or not. So either we help them do that safely and effectively or they’ll cut us out of the loop and do it without us.

      I think the reality is that supplements were here long before sports dietitians were, and will be around long after we’re gone. We’re not going to stop their use even if we decided that’s what we wanted to do. Therefore our best strategy is to work together with athletes, coaches and sports scientists to ensure that supplement use is firstly safe, secondly legal, thirdly effective and finally that it’s not distracting athletes and coaches from other strategies that would be more beneficial (a normal diet that complements the training schedule and performance goals, good training, sleep, recovery, etc.).

  • Wily_Quixote

    FFS. just train.

    • This is very common for highly trained athletes.

      • jules

        VDB once claimed he didn’t need to train

        • Sean

          Hows that working for him now?

          • jules

            just fine. he definitely doesn’t need to train now

      • Wily_Quixote

        what’s common?

        • Using bi-carb before races. Especially time trials.

          • Wily_Quixote

            Ah, I see.

        • jules

          I thought he meant training

          • Wily_Quixote

            that’s what I thought….
            the tautology of highly trained athletes commonly training meant that I had to clarify it….

  • Alister Taylor

    It’s also worth having a look at chronic, rather than acute loading profiles. As in – loading over 4-5 days leading into a race, in lower doses. I used it whilst rowing, and found that this caused me a lot less gut ache, and was still very effective.

  • Mark Fletcher

    Sort of sounds like drinking passion pop.
    Only once. Underage.
    21grams of BiCarb and I’d be a little soufflé flapping off my handlebars.

  • MBB

    When completing my sports science degree, we performed a test in the lab – I was the lab rat. VO2 max week one, week two NO bicarb & maximal effort at 120% of VO2 max (power). Week three, bicarb pre-test, replicate 120% VO2 max test. I went for ~15% longer post bicarb (week 3). Hardly a large sample size randomised controlled trial, but as a competitive cyclist, I was impressed. Admittedly, I never took it again, as gastrointestinal upset wasn’t worth it. Interestingly, after leaving the sports science world for critical care medicine, sodium bicarbonate is used for a range of medical indications. One indication is in acidotic states (cardiac arrest, sepsis), where anaerobic metabolism + the bi-product (lactic acid) is significant. Interestingly, actual large scale randomised controlled trials in medicine have shown no benefit to the use of sodi-bic in acidotic states to buffer acid. Not comparing apples and apples, but interesting none-the-less.

  • Mark

    There are more soluble and better alternatives to sodium bicarbonate as a lactic acid buffer, although sodium bicarbonate is cheap. Rock climbers and bodybuilders (think short, anaerobic, explosive efforts) have had success with supplemental potassium carbonate, which is typically taken in smaller doses.

  • Mark

    And remember this featured here on Cycling Tips:
    Orica-GreenEdge rider Daryl Impey tested positive for the banned substance Probenecid at the South African Road National Championships. Impey claimed that the substance had entered his system due to cross-contamination of gelatine capsules he purchased to fill with sodium bicarbonate (a legal supplement used to enhance high-intensity exercise performance).

  • Nice write up Alan, always a touchy subject.

    The context of supplement use in his example is targeted competition, or targeted training sessions. As Alan pointed out, where exercise intensity is such that the lactate produced when performing the work MAY be a limiting factor.

    The context isn’t general consumption pre coffee shop ride, recovery ride, or ride in general, as some may infer.

  • George

    Extreme Endurance is the way to go – i’ve been using it for a month now and its amazing!

    http://endurancenutrition.com.au/xendurance/extreme-endurance

  • For those that are interested, Shane Miller mentioned this article and a funny bicarb soda-related story in his latest vlog, here. Flick to 2:02. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnaEbhDCuc

  • mt

    Change your blood pH and you change your Hb/Oxy dissociation curve.. Playing with fire biochemocally imo

  • Joseph Gokmen

    After reading a similar article on a different endurance sport website i decided to give the bi-carb a go before a ride. I absolutely smashed every single hill and got a few PB’s along the way, the leg burn took a lot longer to be realized which helped physically and mentally during the session, I did used this method once again but to lesser effect than the first time round. The gastrointestinal problems occurred after the first dosage and continued on for weeks after, sharp aches and pains in the stomach, which were most prevalent during the morning and when urinating. I wouldn’t recommend it, hydration tabs have a small amount of bi-carb in which is just enough for me.

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