If there’s something all men want it’s the ability to improve their performance – in bed, in the gym, and even on the dating scene. But what most men don’t know is that there’s a simple product that can help them achieve it all, and it’s probably already sitting in the back of the pantry.
Baking soda, known chemically as sodium bicarbonate or the chemical equation NaHCO3, is a naturally-occurring crystalline chemical compound already widely used for household and health purposes such as deodorizing, cleaning, gastrointestinal relief and, of course, baking.
NaHCO3: What is it?
NaHCO3 has a highly alkaline composition which gives it the ability to counteract acidic environments. You may remember from your high school chemistry class that when baking soda is mixed with an acid, carbon dioxide via a chemical reaction. It is this quality that also makes it a cheap and effective way to give your sex life and athletic performance the boost it needs.
NaHCO3 health benefits
Sodium bicarbonate naturally exists within all of us. It is produced in the body by the kidneys and intestinal tract and plays an important role in regulating the acidity of blood which has a significant impact on how men perform in the bedroom.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a frustrating and frankly embarrassing condition that can have a devastating impact on one’s sex life. Additionally, the general reluctance of men to speak about it openly or seek help creates the misconception that those suffering from the condition are an unlucky few. However, it’s more common than you think. The Cleveland Clinic reports that up to 52 percent of men aged 40 through 70 experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. This number can also be as high as 25 percent for men under the age of 40, suggesting that age isn’t always the cause.
Before we get into how sodium bicarbonate can help treat problems “down there,” we need to understand how it all works. The erection of the penis is facilitated by nitric oxide, or NO, a neutral chemical compound produced by a thin lining of cells called the endothelium within arteries, veins, and other organs like the liver and kidneys. It acts as a vasodilator, opening blood vessel walls and improving blood flow and circulation throughout the body. During arousal, nitric oxide is released into the blood vessels of the penis allowing it to fill with blood and grow in size.
There is also a strong correlation between hormone imbalances and erectile dysfunction. Nitric oxide regulates the functions of adrenal and other endocrine glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream to support sexual performance. Low levels of nitric oxide will lead to weaker or non-existent erections when you need them.
The key thing to understand is that nitric oxide production is optimized in alkaline environments. A normal healthy body has an ideal blood pH balance of approximately 7.4, meaning it is slightly more alkaline than acidic.
(Note: pH is a measure of hydrogen ion concentration and is measured on a scale from 0 to 14. The higher the number, the more alkaline the solution is and the more oxygen it contains. The lower the number, the more acidic and oxygen deprived it is.)
When blood becomes too acidic due to factors such as chronic stress, acidic-producing food, over-exercising, prolonged inactivity, or drugs, a condition called metabolic acidosis occurs. In this state, optimal amounts of nitric oxide cannot be produced, and red blood cells lose their ability to repel and stack together into a rouleau formation, making it difficult to carry oxygen through the small capillaries located in the penis.
Sodium bicarbonate supplementation can combat acidosis by acting as a pH buffer. Once introduced into the bloodstream an acid-base reaction occurs in which the bicarbonate combines with hydrogen ions to create carbonic acid (H2CO3) which later separates into water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon dioxide is then absorbed into renal cells which lower the acidity of the blood to allow for increased nitric oxide production.
Finishing too soon? You’re not alone. Roughly 1 in 3 men experiences premature ejaculation, according to Mayo Clinic. The inability to keep things hot and steamy in the bedroom can cause sex to lose it’s magic quickly for couples and cause men a lot of unnecessary grief. It also doesn’t help that anxiety is one of the key causes of premature ejaculation which feeds into a self-perpetuating problem.
Well, if you need something to calm those nerves look no further than your friend sodium bicarbonate. Once again, due to its powerful ability to lower blood acidity, it is plausible that sodium bicarbonate can help men last longer in bed.
Whether related to performance or other issues, anxiety isn’t purely psychological. A study from the University of Iowa, suggests that high blood acidity may be a significant cause of anxiety as a large change in blood acidity can hinder the brain function. Neurons in the brain communicate via small gaps called synapses, some of which include specialized proteins called acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) that are activated by high acidity levels.
The study found mice who lack ASICs via genetic modification displayed less instinctive or learned fear, a feeling closely interrelated with anxiety. Normal fear-based behavior returned only once the ASIC gene was returned to the amygdala of the brain. Similarly, another trial which examined the role of carbon dioxide in the equation found mice who inhaled higher concentrations of carbon dioxide showed more fear-like reactions, some of which requires the presence of ASICs in the amygdala.
Testosterone or T, for short, is well-known for the role it plays in the male sex drive but it is actually even more important to men’s health overall. Produced in the testes, T is known to also regulate muscle mass, strength, fat distribution, bone mass, red and sperm cell production, and even hair growth. (It literally puts hair on a man’s chest.) Unfortunately, T production in men begins to decline gradually after the age of 30 making them more susceptible to low libido, weight gain, and hair loss.
Sodium bicarbonate can help jumpstart the production of T by behaving like a “molecular switch” that activates the synthesis of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) from the cellular energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). the cAMP is a secondary messenger between cells and hormone that binds with the cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA), an enzyme with the ability to control sugar, glycogen, and lipid metabolism in androgen receptors. Elevated levels of PKA can heighten the sensitivity of androgen receptors via molecular metabolism which, in part, leads to an increased utilization of T from the bloodstream.
Additionally, sodium bicarbonate aids in detoxifying the liver which also has the potential to boost T levels. The primary function of the liver is to filter blood from the digestive tract before disseminating it to the rest of the body, making it a highly-concentrated storage unit for toxins like alcohol and sugar. The liver is also vital for increasing use of human growth hormone (HGH) to stimulate body growth as well as breaking down estrogen and testosterone-binding molecules.
Hair loss and reversing gray hair
The fact that most men will develop gray hair at some point in their lives may be difficult to stomach – but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. The Western approach to diagnosing these issues typically points to hormones imbalances, blaming genetics and stress the primary culprits. Meanwhile, Eastern medicine takes a different slightly approach. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the kidney is revered as the source of energy and life for the human body. Their belief is that stress on the kidneys will manifest in various symptoms beginning with hair loss and graying as hair follicles stop receiving sufficient energy and nutrition.
Interestingly, this ties back to our buddy nitric oxide. When blood pH levels are optimal, nitric oxide is released near clusters of capillaries around the kidneys called glomeruli, improving blood flow and increasing the rate at which the organ filters blood and creates urine. You might recall that when blood is too acidic, such as when the kidneys are stressed, nitric oxide production is hindered.
When exposed to organic acid, the glial cells in the brain produce sodium nitrite (NaNO3) which breaks down nitric oxide for use by bone marrow cells for stem cell development. However, when acidosis occurs the sodium nitrate is chemically reduced before it reaches the bone marrow and is unable to support the production of stem cells. When the body is low on stem cells, hair begins to thin and lose color. Sodium bicarbonate can combat this by increasing blood alkalinity so that sodium nitrite is not converted prematurely.
NaHCO3 workout benefits
Sodium Bicarbonate likely isn’t already on the list of things you consider when searching for workout supplements. Products such as whey protein, BCAAs, creatine and fish oil generally take center stage. Yet sodium bicarbonate is beginning to gain popularity in the world of fitness and athletics for it’s ergogenic properties. When used properly, sodium bicarbonate can enhance physical performance, stamina, and muscle recovery.
Although now an emerging ingredient in pre-workout supplements, it can also be taken in its standard form. When mixed with water or other consumable liquids, sodium bicarbonate helps muscles cells quickly adapt to the high energy demands placed on them during exercise by optimizing the function of mitochondria in cells. This is much like beta-alanine, a non-essential amino acid frequently found in pre-workout supplements famous for the “tingling” sensation that follows shortly after consumption.
The performance boost resulting from sodium bicarbonate supplementation typically hovers around 1-2 percent when measured. Almost negligible at first glance, but this is roughly the same improvement seen from consuming 4,800-6,400 grams of beta-alanine which is actually quite impressive. The key difference between the two supplements is beta-alanine stabilizes the body’s pH levels from within muscles cells while sodium bicarbonate does so from outside muscle cells.
Now you might be thinking it would be an even better idea to take both sodium bicarbonate and beta-alanine, right? Not quite, as limited research shows no significant benefit from stacking them together. The best way to think of the two is they are as similar in desired effects but not necessarily complementary.
Anyone who has been to the gym or done strenuous exercise is familiar with the burning sensation that occurs in muscles when they are put under stress. Contrary to popular belief, this is sensation isn’t the result of lactic acid build up around the active site. When you exercise, your body uses a large amount of ATP to meet the high energy demands of your muscle cells. The process that ensues produces hydrogen ions or protons. It is the build-up of these hydrogen ions that make the area more acidic as they come into contact with nerves at the muscle site and produce a burning sensation.
Lactic acid (C3H6O3) actually doesn’t occur within the body. Although related, it is often mistaken for its base form lactate (C3H5O3) and is actually a part of the body’s response to delay muscle fatigue. It is produced when muscles are not receiving enough oxygen and the body switches from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism. Lactate differs from lactic acid in that it lacks a hydrogen ion necessary to donate via a chemical reaction and therefore cannot be acidic. (Notice how the chemical formula lactic acid contains six hydrogen ions while lactate only consists of five.)
Sodium bicarbonate can help here by bolstering the acid neutralizing effects of lactate with the added benefit of being able to target the specific areas of muscle stress. By delaying fatigue and increasing muscle power, it helps bodybuilders push out those few extra reps needed to promote higher muscle growth.
Boost athletic performance
Going beyond simply the benefits for your local gym rat, most studies suggest the greatest performance enhancement is seen in those who perform exercises of high intensity and short-to-moderate duration. Athletes who perform high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Tabata, Crossfit, or races lasting roughly 1-7 minutes would fall within this category.
This is because during such activity intensities generally range between 80-120 percent of VO2 max, also known as peak oxygen intake. They frequently put their anaerobic glycolysis system to work which is one of the ways the body creates ATP for energy when oxygen supply is limited. It is dominant only 10-30 seconds into intense exercise and lasts for a total of roughly 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
While there is some conflicting evidence, several studies support the use of sodium bicarbonate for performance enhancement. A 1993 meta-analytic review by Matson and Tran of the effects of sodium bicarbonate on anaerobic exercise cites a mean 27 +/- 20 percent increase in time to exhaustion versus placebo.
Sodium bicarbonate has also been shown to support neuromuscular function during activities requiring a high coordination. This allows athletes to form closer to peak performance levels even as they begin to fatigue over time. A 2010 study observing tennis players who ingested sodium bicarbonate before their matches experienced no decline in performance while playing, whereas, those who consumed placebo found their skills waned as their bodies wore out.
Runners and endurance athletes
We’ve already discussed how sodium bicarbonate is most beneficial to athletes who perform shorter, high-intensity exercise. But that doesn’t mean that the likes of marathon runners and cyclists can’t also reap benefits. Despite being somewhat controversial, “soda doping,” as it is commonly called in competitive circles, is perfectly legal and has a long history of use by endurance athletes to delay muscle fatigue and reduce soreness.
Again, the studies are rather ambiguous. A 2017 study by Freis, Hecksteden, Such, and Meyer examined 18 trained runners as they performed exhaustive graded and constant load exercise tests after ingesting sodium bicarbonate or placebo. It found that both time to exhaustion and maximal performance did not improve significantly in the test group. On the other hand, another 2017 study conducted at the School of Sport Sciences of the Surabaya State University in Indonesia found a 103 percent increase is anaerobic running endurance of trained athletes (ie. university badminton players) during a treadmill test.
Given the evidence, the best thing to do is try it yourself and see if you notice any improvements in your performance.
NaHCO3 side effects
Sodium bicarbonate might now seem like a miracle supplement but it definitely isn’t without its drawbacks. Although not experienced by all, the most prominent side effects involve the digestive tract. These can include nausea, bloating, and acid reflux within 30-60 minutes of ingestion. After roughly an hour, the risks of diarrhea and gas are heightened for the following 24 hours.
Also, as its name suggests, sodium bicarbonate is a salt and does contain a considerable amount of dietary sodium. A dose of 200-300 mg per kilogram of body weight will add roughly 3,500 to 5,000 mg of additional salt to your diet. The FDA recommends only 2,300 mg of sodium daily. That said, sodium bicarbonate should not be consumed by people on a restrictive low-sodium diet such as those with hypertension. It can also increase the risk of kidney stones in those who consume high amounts of dairy.
The most widely recommended dosage of sodium bicarbonate is 200-300 mg per kilogram of body weight. However, considering the high sodium composition and potential intestinal discomfort it may be best to stick to the lower end of this range. Another best practice to minimize such side effects is to ingest smaller doses throughout the day.
If you are taking it as a pre-workout, add the sodium bicarbonate to 500-750 ml of the liquid of your choice and drink the mixture 90-120 minutes before exercise. To prevent muscle soreness it can also be taken immediately after activity as lactate also lingers at the active site for several hours.
Lastly, timing is important. Sodium bicarbonate is sensitive to the hydrogen chloride (HCl) found in stomach acid and undergoes a reaction when they come into contact, such as in the antacid use case. When for athletic performance enhancement or its non-digestive health benefits, it should be consumed on an empty stomach to avoid being broken down before reaching the intestines, which is necessary for it reaches the bloodstream.
NaHCO3 in a nutshell
When used safely, sodium bicarbonate holds some pretty impressive benefits for something your grandmother uses to bake cookies. It can revitalize your sex life, keep your hair looking healthy, and help you power up at the gym. As with any supplement, use responsibly. Or else you might find yourself sprinting for the toilet instead of the finish line.