Since the 1930s, scientists have attempted to determine if increasing the body’s ability to buffer metabolic acids will enhance physical performance. The buffer of major interest has been bicarbonate; to a lesser degree, citrate and phosphate salts have been investigated. In theory, the buffers facilitate performance by decreasing the accumulation of hydrogen ions that would otherwise presumably inhibit glycolysis and interfere with energy production or impair cross-bridge formation between myofilaments and thereby reduce force production. Literature findings indicate variable results, but overall it appears that bicarbonate salts taken at dosages of 0.3 g · kg−1 may improve performance during repeated sprints or at the end of a progressively more intense exercise test. Athletes are advised of potential ill effects of bicarbonate ingestion, such as gastrointestinal distress. Prior to applying the agents in a competitive setting, athletes should test the effects of buffers on performance during training sessions and consider the sport governing body’s stand on buffer usage.
Craig A. Horswill is with Gatorade Exercise Physiology Lab, 617 W. Main St., Barrington, IL 60010.