Amp Human's Science Advisory Board chairman Dr Brad Wilkins helps explain the science of bicarb, why PR Lotion works and why it's a must have training product for any athlete.
As the first line of defense for preserving acid-base balance during exercise, bicarbonate (HCO3-) is a critically important electrolyte for optimal neuromuscular function. In fact, over 40 years of scientific research (and athlete practice) overwhelmingly supports the benefits of sodium bicarbonate ingestion for improving acid-base balance and enhancing human performance in sport. Despite the clear evidence for performance benefits, gastrointestinal distress is a common side effect. This makes sodium bicarbonate ingestion impractical for most athletes to use regularly. PR Lotion is the first and only topical lotion to deliver sodium bicarbonate directly through the skin, circumventing the limitations at the gut.
There are two important benefits of increased buffering with sodium bicarbonate delivery through PR Lotion. First, enhanced buffering capacity to limit the negative impact of rapid acid production in the muscle. This can diminish the progression of fatigue during high intensity training session and competitions, thereby enabling high quality training and maintenance of performance during competition. Second, PR Lotion can reduce the sensation of post-exercise or delayed onset muscle soreness. That is, sodium bicarbonate may alleviate post exercise inflammation and edema or swelling following intense training, allowing athletes to recover more effectively and increase “readiness” for subsequent training sessions. Combined, PR Lotion can be an important tool to enhance the quality of training loads, allow effective recovery between training sessions, and enable the maintenance of desired performance outcomes.
Performance benefits of Sodium Bicarbonate
Electrolytes are essential for the body to function normally and optimally. In fact, they are crucial for just about every cell and every tissue in the body to operate effectively. The most common electrolytes considered important are Sodium (Na+), Chloride (Cl-), Magnesium (Mg2+), Potassium (K+), and Calcium (Ca2+). For this reason, numerous sports drinks, supplements, and sport nutrition products on the market focus on delivering or replacing these electrolytes before or during exercise. An often overlooked, yet equally important electrolyte is bicarbonate (HCO3-). Bicarbonate naturally exists within most tissues in the body and is especially important in the muscles (extracellular space) and within the blood stream during exercise. An important function of bicarbonate is to buffer hydrogen ions produced by the muscles as a metabolic by-product of intense exercise or repeated bouts of high intensity exercise like interval training. The byproducts of anaerobic metabolism (notably Lactic Acid) can quickly disrupt acid-base balance and negatively impact performance. As the first line of defense for preserving acid-base balance, bicarbonate is crucial for optimum nerve and muscle function and muscle cell integrity.
Bicarbonate, as a performance aid in sport, has been explored scientifically and used in practice by athletes since the 1970’s. Bicarbonate levels in the body can be increased through the ingestion of sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda. The evidence is overwhelmingly in support for improved performance outcomes with sodium bicarbonate supplementation prior to training or competition (See [1, 2] for detailed scientific reviews). So much so, that recent International Olympic Committee consensus statements on dietary supplementation and high performance athletes  includes sodium bicarbonate among very few supplements demonstrating “strong evidence of achieving benefits for performance”.
The challenge with oral supplementation or ingestion of sodium bicarbonate is absorption and delivery through the gut without significant gastrointestinal distress. A well-known side effect for athletes who ingest sodium bicarbonate before competition or training can be significant GI distress. It is common for athletes to feel nausea, bloating, have diarrhea, or have significant stomach “cramping” when consuming sodium bicarbonate before workouts or competition.
Even though the performance benefits of bicarbonate are clear, the potential for negative side effects in the gut can significantly discourage athletes from ingesting sodium bicarbonate. In fact, to combat the negative side effects, athletes include extensive and sometimes tedious protocols or strategies for sodium bicarbonate consumption into their pre-training or pre-competition routine. The timing of ingestion before exercise, the quantity of sodium bicarb ingested, and the “loading” strategy are all necessary considerations to carefully plan before ingesting sodium bicarbonate for the performance benefits without the negative side effects. Adding to the complexity, ingestion strategies need to be highly personalized to each athlete, as individuals can have varying responses or sensitivities to oral sodium bicarbonate.
Not only do athletes run the risk of significant GI distress with sodium bicarbonate ingestion; they must also plan the appropriate strategy and remember to take the sodium bicarbonate capsules, in the correct amounts and at the right time to achieve performance benefits. Combined, these issues make sodium bicarbonate ingestion, as performance aid, impractical for most athletes and make regular use difficult during training and competition.
The Solution: PR Lotion
Sodium bicarbonate is easily dissolved in water and water-soluble molecules cannot easily penetrate the skins defenses. The innovative technology in PR Lotion creates a temporarily pathway between skin cells, without the use of harsh solvents, while maintaining the integrity of the skin. At the same time, the sodium bicarbonate is encapsulated within fatty acid salts (which also naturally occur in the body) to aid in transport through the skin. The combination of creating a temporary pathway between skin cells and the encapsulation of the water-soluble sodium bicarbonate, allows absorption through the skin and into the body’s tissues and blood stream.
PR Lotion is the first and only topical lotion to deliver sodium bicarbonate directly through the skin. This enhances the buffering capacity of the body and the muscle while circumventing the potentially debilitating GI distress. In addition, PR Lotion removes much of the complexity required in pre-exercise ingestion protocol or strategies. In contrast to ingested sodium bicarbonate, there is little need for athletes to incorporate tedious pre-exercise protocols, strategies, or routines to combat negative side effects. This makes PR Lotion a very practical solution for delivering the performance benefits of sodium bicarbonate and a very scalable solution for athletes to use regularly during training and competition. PR Lotion effectively eliminates all problems associated with the ingestion of sodium bicarbonate, while providing athletes with the benefits described in over 40 years of sodium bicarbonate research.
Benefits of PR Lotion
Scientific research examining the performance benefits of sodium bicarbonate have focused primarily on high intensity exercise. As a mechanism of action, when Lactic Acid is produced at high intensity in muscles cells as a byproduct of anaerobic metabolism, it promptly dissociates or separates to Lactate- ion and H+ ion. It is this H+ ion that has a significant impact on muscle acidity and muscle function. The enhanced buffering potential with higher bicarbonate levels can reduce the impact of acid production on muscle function and fatigue. Research using PR Lotion by Dr. Mark Kern (San Diego State University) explored H+ buffering following a series of very high intensity exercise conditions. The study identified an 11% higher blood lactate concentration when subject used PR Lotion compared to a control (placebo) lotion. These findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in May 2018, demonstrate the potential for enhanced buffering potential with PR Lotion during high intensity cycling exercise.
Dr. Jason Siegler (University of Western Australia) examined the effect of PR Lotion on blood lactate concentration and performance outcomes with repeated 30 second cycling intervals at 120% of peak power (30 second rest) to exhaustion. A similar rise in blood lactate levels was observed compared to oral sodium bicarbonate ingestion (standard dose of 0.3g/kg body weight). Although the study did not observe the typical increase in blood bicarbonate (or increase in blood pH) usually associated with sodium bicarbonate ingestion, the results suggest PR Lotion was as effective as ingesting sodium bicarbonate at buffering H+ production in the muscle at high intensities. Furthermore, the cyclists performed similarly (defined by cumulative cycling time) compared to oral sodium bicarbonate ingestion. Similar performance outcomes, combined with the observation that blood lactate values were similar, suggests PR Lotion is an effective ergogenic aid during high intensity or repeated bouts of high intensity exercise.
In a similar study, an elite cycling training center (Source Endurance) in Northern Colorado performed a placebo controlled, blinded, and randomized research study on the performance benefits of PR Lotion. A group of competitive cyclists rode at 140% of a predetermined 20 min time trial power for 30 seconds with 20 seconds of rest; then repeat the interval until exhaustion. They observed a 20% increase in the number of intervals completed before exhaustion when the cyclists used PR Lotion compared to applying a placebo control lotion.
Recovery & Muscle Soreness
A less known, and less understood, benefit of bicarbonate or an enhanced buffering potential is improved recovery by reducing post-exercise or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following heavy exercise or training sessions. Pre-exercise application of PR Lotion can aid in recovery between training sessions in two ways. First, adequate bicarbonate levels in the muscle can reduce post-exercise inflammation. Bicarbonate creates an alkaline environment surrounding the muscle cells, which can reduce the chemical stress caused by acid production during intense exercise. This, in turn, can reduce the post-exercise inflammatory response following intense exercise . It is this inflammatory response which, in part, contributes to DOMS experienced following a competition or intense training session. Second, PR Lotion may decrease edema or tissue swelling that occurs following heavy or long training sessions. Both sodium and bicarbonate concentrations in the extracellular space (and in the blood) can modulate fluid shifts between the inside and the outside of the muscle cells. It is the buildup of fluid or edema that contributes to the pain we sense as muscle soreness. Anything that can reduce the fluid accumulation in the muscle can reduce DOMS.
Research exploring the impact of PR Lotion on DOMS examined cyclists performing a series of very high intensity exercise conditions, including a ramp protocol of progressively increasing intensity to near maximal exercise, a 30 second sprint, and a 5 min time trail with only 5 min of rest between conditions. The cyclists then completed a muscle soreness survey for 2 days following the exercise session. The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in May 2018, demonstrated PR Lotion substantially reduced scores of delayed onset muscle soreness compared to the placebo control lotion. In fact, between the first and second days following the intense exercise session, the cyclists reported a 34% increase in muscle soreness while using the placebo lotion and a 54% decrease in muscle soreness while using the PR Lotion.
Optimal Training & Race Day Performance
Increased buffering potential in the muscle, with PR Lotion, promotes the maintenance of high training loads or high-quality training efforts, by reducing the rate of fatigue development or fatigue progression. In addition, the increased buffering potential prior to competition, can allow the athlete to maintain higher velocities, power outputs, or work rates during a race. This will be especially true during training sessions and competitions that require near or at “threshold” intensities or near maximal efforts. Reducing fatigue progression, either during training or competition, will diminish the impact of fatigue on important factors related to performance; such as technique degradation and the energy requirements to maintain a desired pace, power output, or work rate.
Because of the reduced inflammation and muscle soreness between training sessions, PR Lotion can improve the rate of recovery or readiness to train. That is, diminished muscle soreness in the days following intense exercise, aids in the recovery of muscle function which can only enhance the quality of the subsequent training session. The improved readiness to train, combined with increased buffering potential in the muscle, promotes the maintenance of high training loads or high-quality training efforts. This means that the athlete is more ready and able to handle the required or prescribed training loads. PR Lotion can, therefore, help an athlete be more physically capable of performing the intended training session, which will allow for overall superior adaptations to the prescribed training.
About the Author: Brad Wilkins, Ph.D.
Brad Wilkins. Ph.D. is VP of Science and Innovation at Amp Human and Chairman of Amp Human's Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Wilkins has over 25 years of research experience with over 40 published scientific articles and patents. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon and trained as a post-doctoral fellow at the Mayo Clinic. As an accomplished scientist at Nike, he founded the Nike+ Sport Performance Laboratory, and led the scientific team in Nike’s quest to break the two-hour marathon barrier (Breaking2). You can learn more about him and the rest of our Scientific Advisory Board members here.
1. Siegler, J.C., et al., Mechanistic Insights into the Efficacy of Sodium Bicarbonate Supplementation to Improve Athletic Performance. Sports Med Open, 2016. 2(1): p. 41.
2. McNaughton, L.R., J. Siegler, and A. Midgley, Ergogenic effects of sodium bicarbonate. Curr Sports Med Rep, 2008. 7(4): p. 230-6.
3. Maughan, R.J., et al., IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med, 2018. 52(7): p. 439-455.
4. Peart, D.J., et al., Pre-exercise alkalosis attenuates the heat shock protein 72 response to a single-bout of anaerobic exercise. J Sci Med Sport, 2011. 14(5): p. 435-40.