So, you’re looking for the best pre workout to improve your cardio. While every other website will recommend you some pre workout formula that is likely filled with underdosed supplements that have negligible effects on your cardio, this article is aimed at recommending you one supplemental ingredient backed by science.
Sodium bicarbonate (aka “baking soda”) is the best pre-workout for cardio improvements. It has been proven to enhance time to exhaustion and power output in many different athletes.
This is not a traditional pre-workout formula. Many of them are marketed well and under deliver. Instead, this particular supplement has shown time and time again to work in combat athletes.
Why Is Sodium Bicarbonate The Best Pre Workout For Cardio?
The use of sodium bicarbonate has been extensively studied within combat sports and martial artists which are highly reliant on high levels of cardio.
Within international and national level amateur boxers, ingesting 0.3g per kg of body weight (powder) an hour before sparring enhanced their work rate over 4 rounds compared to a placebo .
In professional boxing, the same quantity of sodium bicarbonate (powder) doubled the time to exhaustion after performing a high-intensity running protocol to simulate a boxing match, a run to exhaustion, and boxing specific pad work .
Club level competitive Karatekas performed a karate specific aerobic test which involved two attacks on a punching bag with decreasing rest between efforts until exhaustion .
This study loaded sodium bicarbonate by having subjects take 0.3g per kg of body weight (pills) at breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 3 days before the test. Before the test, karatekas took 0.1g per kg of body weight of sodium bicarbonate at 120, 90, and 60 minutes beforehand.
Karatekas significantly increased their time to exhaustion compared to placebo by 9%. There was a wide range of individual responses varying from 1.2-18.2% improvements.
Similar results have been found in professional Taekwondo athletes who ingested 0.5g per kg of body weight of sodium bicarbonate (powder) for 5 days before testing in 4 equal doses throughout the day .
The test was a specific Taekwondo anaerobic intermittent kick test. They found that sodium bicarbonate increased the peak and average power of kicks, and reduced blood lactate concentration after the test compared to placebo. Thus, potentially lowering the perceived effort of exercise.
However, reducing blood lactate concentration may be a one-off incidence highly influenced by aerobic capacity as research in simulated matches between Taekwondo black belts who ingested 0.3g per kg of bodyweight of sodium bicarbonate (pills) 90 minutes before combat saw significant increases in blood lactate concentration after combat .
This may have explained the increased anaerobic lactic contribution during combat which led to increased total attack time.
Another study in elite Taekwondo found ingesting 0.5g per kg of body weight of sodium bicarbonate (powder) for 5 days before testing the Taekwondo anaerobic intermittent kick test found improvements in peak and average power compared to placebo .
Further, blood lactate concentration was higher after the test compared to before.
Only one study has investigated sodium bicarbonate ingestion and BJJ . They found no improvements in isometric leg strength to fatigue following 0.3g per kg of bodyweight sodium bicarbonate ingestion (powder) 60 minutes before testing.
No performance enhancement was likely caused by the test used as endurance was measured through a test emphasizing force development.
Judo on the other hand has been extensively covered. Two studies used experienced Judo competitors to perform the special Judo fitness test . The first study used 0.3g per kg of body weight of sodium bicarbonate (pills) 120 minutes before the testing.
Judokas were able to perform more throws during the test compared to the placebo with greater blood lactate concentration after the test . During the upper body anaerobic test, average and peak power relative to body weight were greater than the placebo.
The second study ingested the same amount of sodium bicarbonate (powder) but in 0.1g per kg of bodyweight increments at 120, 90, and 60 minutes before the test .
The sodium bicarbonate group also performed more throws than the placebo.
Sodium bicarbonate has also been tested in Judo matches . They found no improvements in Judo match performance. However, technical and tactical aspects dominate during a match so it is difficult to see changes in an environment that is not controlled.
Wrestlers took a progressive increase in dosage from 0.025g per kg of bodyweight on day 1 to 0.1g per kg of body weight on day 8-10 (pills). Subjects were put through a dummy throw test and an anaerobic power test.
While peak power increased during the anaerobic test, no significant improvements were found in the dummy throw test or anaerobic capacity. This was likely due to the small dose of sodium bicarbonate compared to other studies.
Overall, the research suggests that sodium bicarbonate taken an hour before or loaded over days can enhance power output and time to exhaustion.
How Does Sodium Bicarbonate Work?
When exercising at high-intensities, within muscle pH levels (1-6 acidic, 7 neutral, 8-14 alkaline) drop into acidic levels.
This drop-in pH level is caused by the accumulation of H+ ions which inhibits the muscular contraction (see “What Is Conditioning” to read a more in-depth guide).
Therefore, if the drop in pH can be delayed or prevented by drinking an alkaline solution (sodium bicarbonate), we can delay the onset of fatigue increasing the time to exhaustion and improve power output .
How To Take Sodium Bicarbonate For Cardio Enhancements?
There are a couple of important things to note:
- Some people may experience gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort with the use of sodium bicarbonate.
- The absorption rate of bicarbonate (e.g. time to peak blood and pH) may differ greatly among individuals (10–85 min) .
Loading sodium bicarbonate is one strategy that can reduce GI discomfort . For example, breaking up the daily dose into three equal doses throughout the day.
The recommended starting dose is 0.2-0.4g per kg of bodyweight 60-120 minutes pre-workout .
That means for a 100 kg person, 20-40g of sodium bicarbonate should be ingested. This can be pills or powder.
The powder is likely the easiest and cheapest option. Mix it with some flavor drops or cordial mixture with water to mask the taste.
Here is the cheapest, pure sodium bicarbonate you’ll find in bulk on Amazon.
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