In July, I wrote about Bicarbonate Loading Raises Ethical Issues As Performance-Enhancing Aid.
Once again, every second article from the Olympics is about drugs or health benefits of Ergogenic aids. Otherwise, it’s the Michael Phelps show!
Is popping a few Tums considered illegal before your 400 or 800 meters ? How about a mountain of baking soda in your morning pancakes? Isn’t that what makes McDonald’s and Denny’s pancakes so lightand fluffy?
Here is a partial article from Timesonline.co.uk. For the full article, click here.
Is Bicarbonate of Soda a Performance-Enhancing Drug?
With scientific studies saying it raises sporting chance, is baking soda in the kit bags of the Beijing athletes?
Performance-enhancing drugs usually bring to mind designer steroids and human growth hormones. Yet some athletes rely on more rudimentary – and legal – means to boost their race times, including using a substance usually tucked away in a kitchen cupboard.
For years, keen runners have sworn that taking a spoonful of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) helps them to keep going for longer. For years, experts doubted that there was anything other than a placebo effect to these claims until they subjected the substance to rigorous examination. Most exercise scientists investigating the trend for soda-dopingâ€ among athletes and gym-goers have shown that it offers significant benefits for endurance and speed.
At Loughborough University, for instance, physiologists reporting in the June issue of the International Journal of Sports Medicine showed that swimmers who took baking soda about one hour before a 200m event were able to shave a significant time off their usual performances. Dr Jonathan Folland, who led the study, says that it is not uncommon for top swimmers to take sodium bicarbonate (another name for the substance) before a competition to give them an edge. Indeed, he showed that of nine swimmers tested, eight recorded their fastest times after ingesting a supplement of the common baking ingredient.
Another small study by Dr Ronald Deitrick,of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), showed that competitive runners also benefited. Dr Deitrick, who presented his findings at the ACSM annual conference, gave 800m runners either a placebo or a sodium bicarbonate capsule, which they took with water. Although a few of the runners had minor gastrointestinal problems after swallowing the capsules, a greater number benefited significantly.
Helpful for speed-based events
Just last week, an Australian sports scientist said that the use of legal performance-enhancing substances could become a major issue of the Beijing Olympics. Beijing will probably be remembered for the abuse of legal aids,â€ said Robin Parisotto on Australian radio.
And Dr Deitrick believes that bicarbonate of soda can significantly improve performance. If you took out the participants who experienced negative side-effects… you’d see an average improvement in running times of about 2.2 seconds,â€ Dr Deitrick says. For a relatively short running distance, that’s very significant.â€
But how does something so seemingly innocuous have such a dramatic effect? During prolonged or intense exercise muscles produce large amounts of waste products, such as lactic acid, that lead to soreness, stiffness and fatigue. Because sodium bicarbonate naturally reduces acids, it acts as a buffer against these performance-limiting by-products.
Current research suggests that it is particu-larly helpful in speed-based events, including sprints, football and other fast-moving games, and middle-distance (up to 10km) running, swimming and cycling. Essentially, sodium bicarbonate is an alkali substance that increases the pH of the blood,â€ Dr Folland says. This seems to reduce and offset the acidity produced in the muscles during intense, anaerobic exercise that produces lactic acid most quickly, such as fast running or swimming.â€
In Dr Folland’s study, swimmers who took the sodium bicarbonate knocked 1.5 seconds off their time for 200m, a difference that may seem insignificant to recreational swimmers but which is substantial at elite level.
At the last Olympics, the top four swimmers in the men’s 200m freestyle were separated by just 1.4 seconds,â€ Dr Folland says. So, in theory, it could be the difference between winning a medal and not.â€ Not that he recommends that we all rush down to our nearest supermarket with Â£2 to buy a packet. While manufacturers may come up with a drink or capsule containing sodium bicarbonate, it is unpleasing to many palates. For optimum effects it should be taken with water, ideally before exercise, on an empty stomach. Most people take about 20g, although it can cause problems.
It is not dangerous, but it tastes appalling and can make you want to retch,â€ Dr Folland says. It can make some people nauseous when it hits their stomach and a few suffer an upset stomach or diarrhoea when they take it.â€
Some scientists want it banned from sport
Anyone can try it, he says, but only those who are serious enough to monitor their times and progress in sports such as running, swimming or cycling may notice the few seconds advantage it might provide. The increments of improvement are relatively small to the average person, although significant to someone who competes,â€ Dr Folland says. I certainly wouldn’t advocate using it if you do aerobics a few times a week.â€
But some experts, including Dr Deitrick, claim that its effects are so powerful that it shouldn’t have a place in competitive sport. It comes down to whether or not the athlete has a competitive advantage by taking an aid,â€ he says. And in the case of sodium bicarbonate, I believe the answer is yes. It violates the spirit of fair play by artificially enhancing performance.â€
Dr Folland, however, says that baking soda is unlikely to be listed on banned lists. There are always going to be ethical arguments, but if sports drinks and carbohydrate loading, both of which can enhance performance, are allowed, there should be no issue with sodium bicarbonate,â€ he says. If you are serious about exercise and can stomach it, it may help.