Dear Mark: Fitness (and Keto) Benefits of Baking Soda

Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor this week’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering a couple questions from the comment section of last week’s Weekend Link Love. First, what’s the effective dose of baking soda used in the autoimmune study? And is it safe for general use in doses of 1 tsp a day? In addition to the dose, I also discuss the many benefits of baking soda shown in the literature. Second, do sodium biocarbonate containing mineral waters offer the same benefits?

Let’s find out:

Mark, I did not catch the daily dose on that baking soda study–any way to find that out? Think there’s any harm in drinking a tsp/day of the aluminum-free stuff?

The human dose was 2 grams of baking soda, or a little under 1/2 teaspoon.

Baking soda is legit. The autoimmune connection is a more recent finding, because up until now the vast majority of scientific literature has focused on baking soda as an ergogenic aid in physical performance.

It can hit your gut pretty hard and clear things out. Some years back, I read a few studies about baking soda as an ergogenic aid for training. A cheap supplement that everyone has in their kitchen that actually works as advertised? Great! I usually just go for these types of things. Little seems to bother me. So I drank a teaspoon in some water about half hour before my workout. It was gross, very salty and bitter, but I got it down okay.

Just as I’m about to start, I feel my gut rumble and realize I’ll need a rain check on the workout. Luckily, I was training at home that day. Needed that home base.

Still, the benefits are numerous and impressive….

Fitness Performance Benefits of Baking Soda

It increases time to exhaustion. In adults doing 6 weeks of 3x weekly HIIT training on a stationary bike, those who took  baking soda (0.2g/kg bodyweight for first three weeks, 0.1g/kg for last three) increased time to exhaustion by 34% compared to 10% in the placebo group. They also increased lean mass and total work output.

It improves maximal running performance during prolonged exercise.

It suppresses endorphin release during exercise. If this sounds negative, hold on. Training raises acidity. It’s the boost to blood acidity that triggers the release of endorphins, which are at least partially responsible for the feeling of “runner’s high.” That runner’s high is a hack your body throws together to get you to keep pushing through the pain and maintain your effort. What baking soda does is suppress the acidosis and obviate the need for endorphins in the first place.

It improves recovery by reducing post-exercise acidosis. After an exhaustive training session, acidosis is high. Suppressing that acidosis with 0.3 g/kg bodyweight of baking soda speeds up recovery and increases performance in a subsequent workout.

It improves high intensity cycling capacity.

It helps you hit more reps when doing high volume resistance training. It improves max reps to failure in the back squat, but not bench press (in this study at least). It didn’t help with leg press, either. My guess is that the more demanding and full-body a movement—all out cycling and back squats as opposed to leg presses and bench press, which are comparatively more isolated—the more likely baking soda will help.

It seems to work for anything physical. Heck, even judokas improve their throwing capacity—they can successfully perform more throws in a given amount of time—after taking 0.3 grams/kg bodyweight of baking soda.

Besides a boost in training capacity, power output, and all the other training-related benefits, does baking soda do anything else that’s helpful?

Baking Soda and Ketone Production

It increases ketone production. In one study, patients who’d fasted overnight and then taken baking soda saw their pH and ketone production increase. Another study found that obese women on a protein sparing modified fast (high protein, low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie) who took a teaspoon of baking soda had increased ketone production and reduced acidosis. It should be said that the increase in ketones didn’t augment fat loss in either study.

Chris Masterjohn has an interesting post from last year describing how he boosted mental and physical performance and energy levels by testing his urine on a daily basis, then supplementing with a little baking soda if his urine was too acidic. Before the urine testing and baking soda supplementing, he was having trouble mustering the will to train. After testing and supplementing, he couldn’t wait to hit the gym. That’s definitely a single case study, but it’s very interesting and I suspect the results would apply to others as well.

Baking soda has great potential and a teaspoon per day should be okay. Many of the studies I detailed above use doses of 1-3 teaspoons per day. You might start smaller because the gastrointestinal issues are real. Many of the studies showing benefits for physical performance admit that the side effects can be a problem.

How To Deal With Side Effects

Take it in smaller doses throughout the day, rather than all at once. Big doses have a bigger chance of causing gastrointestinal distress. Smaller doses taken more frequently are better tolerated and, according to the literature, about as effective.

Take it away from meals. Reducing acidity can impair digestion.

You might take Chris Masterjohn’s advice and test your urine pH before taking a bunch of baking soda. Make sure you’re acidic enough to actually benefit from it.

Our bodies have ways of suppressing acidosis using the endogenous tools at their disposal, and baking soda is a helpful exogenous tool to take the load off the body.

I wonder if drinking sparkling mineral water would have the same effect as the sodium bicarbonate. Does anyone know?

Mineral water can be a good source of sodium bicarbonate, but it’s less concentrated than taking a half teaspoon or teaspoon of baking soda. One of my favorites—Gerolsteiner—has 1.8 grams of sodium bicarbonate per liter. That’s about a third of a teaspoon if you drink an entire liter bottle.

Definitely helpful. And there are other goodies in mineral water, like the minerals.

The fizzier the water, the more sodium bicarbonate it has.

Thanks for reading and writing, folks. Take care, and be sure to follow up with any additional questions, comments, or input down below!


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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