Before I jump into the workout and, more importantly, my lunch. I want to talk a little science. I love science, being a neuroscience major I was taught my fair share in school, and the subsequent reading I’ve done around exercise physiology and nutritional biochemistry has added quite a bit. Recently Barbell Shrugged posted Episode 43 – “Performance and Supplement Research for Crossfiters.” I’ll be honest, coming from a science background it wasn’t as useful as I was hoping, they talked a lot about the scientific method, how to read studies, etc. The most interesting part was when they asked their guest what his favorite supplements were. I knew most of them; Creatine, D-AA, BCAA, okay that’s a good list. The one that really surprised me was Sodium Bicarbonate, or for you bakers; Baking Soda (NaHCO3). I immediately jumped into pubmed and started reading, I got far enough to tip the risk:reward balance enough to try it. First, some science.
I won’t lie – this graphic is a bit much even for me. The important area to consider is the upper right hand corner. During strenuous exercise, muscles run out of available energy stores, most people know this as glycogen, long polymers of glucose molecules, that when required, can be cleaved and turned into pyruvate molecules; called glycolysis. Glycolysis results in the creation of energy rich chemical bonds in the form of ATP and NADH. Long story short, we want ATP and NADH. The problem, which most people can probably guess based ont their own work capacity, is that we use up energy far faster our body can clear the waste products. The most notable waste product in this process is an acid, lactic acid. Let’s look at it step by step.
- Energetic demands of cells lead to glycolysis, producing pyruvate and ATP/NADH
- Pyruvate enters the Krebs cycle
- Pyruvate is acted on by lactate dehydrogenase, producing lactic acid
- Waste products build in cells causing acidosis
- The pH of both blood and tissues is decreased, and is felt as painful burning
If you’re reading this and a biochemist – please forgive me, its extremely simplified and maybe even a little inaccurate, but the basics are there. So, to produce energy in a quick fashion, pyruvate undergoes lactic acid fermentation, produces energy but a fair bit of acid as well. If you recall from high school chemistry, acids and bases neutralize one another to become neutral. The more acid you have, the more base you need to neutralize it. The body can do this on it’s own, but providing it with base can move the process along. So the idea behind sodium bicarbonate supplementation, is to neutralize this waste products produced in this energy process which can increase the amount of work you can do before the acidosis “burn” keeps you and your muscles from working correctly.
I read a fair bit of literature, and there’s some threads that are found over and over. First, the effective dose is typically noted at .3g/kg with .2g/kg being less effective and more not adding any additional benefit above and beyond the side effects. Which brings me to the second thread, side effects, at .3g/kg, for a 92-ish kg person that’s about 28g. In one dose right before a workout that much baking soda would lead to cramps, bloating, and probably some uncomfortable bathroom situations. The most common treatment in the studies I read was to draw out the loading time and include plenty of water, I was going to workout at 10:00 AM so I started loading at 8:00 AM with 7g/liter of water. If you’re a math whiz, that’s 4L of water, but sure beats emptying your bowels mid WOD. The good news is that I didn’t notice any side effects. We’ll get to my results after the workout.
2012 Regionals Individual Event 4-
*With 1 barbell.
50 Back Squats 135/95#
30 Shoulder to Overhead 135/95#
50 Front Squats 85/65#
30 Shoulder to Overhead 85/65#
50 Overhead Squats 65/45#
30 Shoulder to Overhead 65/45#
This seemed like the perfect WOD to test my little acid/base experiment, plenty of opportunity to work my muscles into an acidotic state. Here’s the problem, as the podcast explained good science requires controls, ideally I would’ve done this workout before, with everything but the sodium bicarbonate loading, same diet, same rest, same time of day, even same barbell – that way the one variable I changed would be responsible for 100% of the noticed difference. Likewise, I would want to do it on more than just myself. Obviously none of this is even close to possible, but the next time I do Helen, or another benchmark it would make for an interesting test. This is pretty much why I noted this experiment as inconclusive, this workout sucked balls, maybe it would’ve sucked worse without – no way to tell.
Science aside, I over-thought this workout big time; for instance I tried to do all 50 of the back squats without dropping the bar because I didn’t want to clean 135# – that was a mistake. My goal was simply to finish, rather than finish at an aggressive pace, again not my best idea. I had no choie but to split up the pull-ups, I did 8’s the first 40, 5’s the other two 40’s. Obviously the easiest shoulder to overhead is a push press, 135# is rather heavy for 30, I ended up doing sort of a push press/split jerk at 135# but I moved through the 85# and 65# in 2 sets and unbroken respectively. The front squats were tortue, my upper back stability is not great, which makes lots of front squats unpleasant, at that point it was less about my legs and more about my shoulders and upper back, I had to split these into 5’s and 10’s. The overhead squats were actually not that bad, at that point it was more about maintaining good overhead stability and keep moving through them. I should’ve done these in larger chunks but usually lost balance around 10-12. Finished in 33:51 – well slower than I would’ve liked, quicker on the pull-ups and I’ll shave a lot of time off this.
Sorry for the science – hope you learned something.