Baking soda is aptly known as baking powder. Of course it has been in the sport for 40 years and there has been 40 years of research that proves that it promotes exercise, but also that it can irritate the stomach and intestines. The C component of the Maurten Bicarb System (the system consists of three components, ed.) is the element that science has already written about. You can handle lactate better with it. It is actually used as a buffer against acidification. That is not just a feeling that athletes have, it is also supported by science.
It works like this: H+ ions are released during strenuous exercise, which stimulate the receptors in the muscles, giving you the feeling of acidification. H+ acts on the receptors, but that acid can be buffered by a base, such as bicarbonate. Taking that buffer ensures that the receptors are less likely to give the feeling of acidification.
Don’t forget to eat
If you manage to absorb a correct amount of sodium bicarbonate, the feeling is different at certain tempos. This way, threshold efforts feel easier and are easier to maintain. Small side note that Ben Vriends, Nutritional Education Officer at Maurten, makes: “That doesn’t mean it’s really getting any easier. You have to watch out that with this product you can burn more carbohydrates per minute than normal, so supplementing is necessary. You must be 100% in order to make optimal use of the product. You can deplete your carbohydrate supply faster, so you can still notice days later that your glycogen supply is empty. But there is not even a discussion about the usefulness of bicarbonate from sports science.”
More than marketing
The popular media mainly talked about Maurten’s good ‘marketing’, but the Swedish brand does have a different approach to getting bicarbonate into the body. “We have again taken hydrogel (the gel-like substance that is also used in the Maurten sports drink and energy gel, ed.), so that you can take a higher dose of bicarbonate. This is because 0.2 to 0.3 grams of bicarbonate per kilogram of body weight is recommended, and we can offer that in one dose that can be easily digested. You have to mix mini tablets of bicarbonate with our viscose mix. That thickness of the mix ensures that the tablets cannot float or sink, they stay in place in the gel. So they are actually packed in the hydrogel, go to the intestines and are not dissolved in the stomach, so you have less chance of stomach problems. The scientific research into what exactly happens in the intestines has not yet been completed, but we have already measured that it still works up to 24 hours after ingestion.”
You should take the mix one to one and a half hours before the start of your sports performance, but after our first tests we were curious if you could postpone taking it in case of a slow start to your ride or race. Vriends: “The protocols have of course been made with a safety margin, but given the long effect, late intake offers few advantages. So it is best to stay within that hour and a half, but if you just warm up for the first hour, for example, you can spoon it in a little closer to the start.”
Wake up refreshed after top performance
What stood out in the tests of our two editors was that they both found that they recovered very quickly after their efforts. How does that good recovery come about? Vriends: “We can’t say anything about this from a scientific point of view, but many athletes report the same thing: it looks like you have a new set of legs. That’s because bicarbonate levels are still elevated. That buffer therefore remains higher than before intake. After about 30 hours it is almost gone. If you have not eaten well, you may just have the feeling that another day later the opposite feeling prevails. So I repeat again: watch your carbohydrate intake. Many cyclists still say: ‘I have a gel with me, but if I don’t feel like it, I don’t take it’. You just have to be good at nutrition, otherwise the Bicarb System has little advantage.”
What is the long-term effect of taking so much sodium bicarbonate? Are there dangers? Vriends: “Bicarbonate has of course been thoroughly researched. The IOC also has a consensus that it is not doping and is safe to use. You do get a lot of sodium with it and we would advise not to get those amounts more than twice a week. In the long term there will therefore be no problems. For example, many athletes take electrolytes during exercise, regardless of whether that helps or not. Those salts are simply excreted (via urine or sweat, ed.) by our body and not everything is absorbed. It gives a temporary increased pressure on the kidneys or the fluid regulation systems, but no more than someone who eats a very high salt diet or takes salt tablets. It has also been sufficiently researched for harmfulness in the long term.”
Primoz Roglic and Nathan Van Hooydonck are a bit skeptical about it, just like Bakelants. ‘It is not because of the bicarbonate that we perform so well at the top level, we have to train a lot, have top material and take care of ourselves to the top. So don’t let it claim so much of our performance.’ “That’s right,” Vriends agrees. “The Bicarb System is just one piece in the gear.”
What we remember from our tests is the intake itself (you can find a video of the process here via our Instagram page). It remains uncomfortable to spoon this substance into kibble without nibbling. “It is important to have something to eat first, preferably with some time in between,” Vriends adds as a tip.
At the moment and until 2024, the Bicarb System is only sold through Maurten’s webshop, to keep everything under control. For example, the makers can recommend lighter people to use the correct dose. “We then look at which retailers have the right knowledge. In Belgium, we often work with specialized pharmacies, so that’s fine, but it’s not a take-away product that you grab quickly at the checkout.”
Keep an eye on our channels for our video review about the Maurten Bicarb System!
Four doses of Bicarb System cost 64.40 euros. More info on Maurten’s website >>