February 4, 2021

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.

See Pure Sodium Bicarbonate

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?

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 [1].

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 [2].

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 [3].

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 [4].

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 [5].

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 [6].

Further, blood lactate concentration was higher after the test compared to before.

Only one study has investigated sodium bicarbonate ingestion and BJJ [7]. 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 [8][9]. 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 [8]. 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 [9].

The sodium bicarbonate group also performed more throws than the placebo.

Sodium bicarbonate has also been tested in Judo matches [10]. 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.

Finally, sodium bicarbonate supplementation has been used in elite wrestling. Specifically, with the Polish National wrestlers [11].

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.

However, when these same subjects were split into males and females, males significantly increased the number of throws during the dummy throw test whereas females did not see any improvement [12].

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?

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 [13].

How To Take Sodium Bicarbonate For Cardio Enhancements?

How To Take Sodium Bicarbonate For Cardio

There are a couple of important things to note:

  1. Some people may experience gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort with the use of sodium bicarbonate.
  2. The absorption rate of bicarbonate (e.g. time to peak blood and pH) may differ greatly among individuals (10–85 min) [3].

Loading sodium bicarbonate is one strategy that can reduce GI discomfort [3]. 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 [14].

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.

Pure Sodium Bicarbonate

References

1. Siegler, J. C., & Hirscher, K. (2010). Sodium bicarbonate ingestion and boxing performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(1), 103-108.

2. Gough, L. A., Rimmer, S., Sparks, S. A., McNaughton, L. R., & Higgins, M. F. (2019). Post-exercise supplementation of sodium bicarbonate improves acid base balance recovery and subsequent high-intensity boxing specific performance. Frontiers in nutrition6, 155.

3. Rezaei, S., Akbari, K., Gahreman, D. E., Sarshin, A., Tabben, M., Kaviani, M., … & Naderi, A. (2019). Caffeine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation alone or together improve karate performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition16(1), 1-8.

4. Sarshin, A., Fallahi, V., Forbes, S. C., Rahimi, A., Koozehchian, M. S., Candow, D. G., … & Naderi, A. (2021). Short-term co-ingestion of creatine and sodium bicarbonate improves anaerobic performance in trained taekwondo athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition18(1), 1-9.

5. Lopes-Silva, J. P., Da Silva Santos, J. F., Artioli, G. G., Loturco, I., Abbiss, C., & Franchini, E. (2018). Sodium bicarbonate ingestion increases glycolytic contribution and improves performance during simulated taekwondo combat. European journal of sport science18(3), 431-440.

6. Koozehchian, M. S., Sarshin, A., Fallahi, V., Rahimi, A., Kaviani, M., Forbes, S., … & Naderi, A. (2020). Effects of Creatine and Sodium Bicarbonate Supplementation on Exercise Performance in Elite Taekwondo Players. The FASEB Journal34(S1), 1-1.

7. Ragone, L., Vieira, J. G., Laterza, M. C., Leitão, L., da Silva Novaes, J., Vianna, J. M., & Dias, M. R. (2020). Acute Effect of Sodium Bicarbonate Supplementation on Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Discomfort, Acid‐Base Balance, and Performance of Jiu‐Jitsu Athletes. Journal of Human Kinetics75(1), 85-93.

8. Artioli, G. G., Gualano, B., Coelho, D. F., Benatti, F. B., Gailey, A. W., & Lancha, A. H. (2007). Does sodium-bicarbonate ingestion improve simulated judo performance?. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism17(2), 206-217.

9. Felippe, L. C., Lopes-Silva, J. P., Bertuzzi, R., McGinley, C., & Lima-Silva, A. E. (2016). Separate and combined effects of caffeine and sodium-bicarbonate intake on judo performance. International journal of sports physiology and performance11(2), 221-226.

10. Artioli, G. G., Coelho, D. F., Benatti, F. B., Gailey, A. C., Gualano, B., & Junior, A. H. L. (2006). Can sodium bicarbonate intake contribute to judo fights performance. Rev Bras Med Esporte12(6), 371-5.

11. Durkalec-Michalski, K., Zawieja, E. E., Podgórski, T., Zawieja, B. E., Michałowska, P., Łoniewski, I., & Jeszka, J. (2018). The effect of a new sodium bicarbonate loading regimen on anaerobic capacity and wrestling performance. Nutrients10(6), 697.

12. Durkalec–Michalski, K., Zawieja, E. E., Zawieja, B. E., Michałowska, P., & Podgórski, T. (2020). The gender dependent influence of sodium bicarbonate supplementation on anaerobic power and specific performance in female and male wrestlers. Scientific reports10(1), 1-12.

13. Lavender, G., & Bird, S. R. (1989). Effect of sodium bicarbonate ingestion upon repeated sprints. British journal of sports medicine23(1), 41-45.

14. Peart, D. J., Siegler, J. C., & Vince, R. V. (2012). Practical recommendations for coaches and athletes: a meta-analysis of sodium bicarbonate use for athletic performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research26(7), 1975-1983.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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