Sodium Bicarbonate and Time-to-Exhaustion Cycling Performance: A Retrospective Analysis Exploring the Mediating Role of Expectation

William H. Gurton, Guilherme G. Matta, Lewis Anthony Gough, Mayur Krachna Ranchordas*, David G. King, Philip Hurst

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Research has shown that ingesting 0.3 g·kg−1 body mass sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) can improve time-to-exhaustion (TTE) cycling performance, but the influence of psychophysiological mechanisms on ergogenic effects is not yet understood. Objective: This study retrospectively examined whether changes in TTE cycling performance are mediated by positive expectations of receiving NaHCO3 and/or the decline in blood bicarbonate during exercise. Methods: In a randomised, crossover, counterbalanced, double-blind, placebo-controlled design, 12 recreationally trained cyclists (maximal oxygen consumption, 54.4 ± 5.7 mL·kg·min−1) performed four TTE cycling tests 90 min after consuming: (1) 0.3 g·kg−1 body mass NaHCO3 in 5 mL·kg−1 body mass solution, (2) 0.03 g·kg−1 body mass sodium chloride in solution (placebo), (3) 0.3 g·kg−1 body mass NaHCO3 in capsules and (4) cornflour in capsules (placebo). Prior to exercise, participants rated on 1–5 Likert type scales how much they expected the treatment they believe had been given would improve performance. Capillary blood samples were measured for acid-base balance at baseline, pre-exercise and post-exercise. Results: Administering NaHCO3 in solution and capsules improved TTE compared with their respective placebos (solution: 27.0 ± 21.9 s, p = 0.001; capsules: 23.0 ± 28.1 s, p = 0.016). Compared to capsules, NaHCO3 administered via solution resulted in a higher expectancy about the benefits on TTE cycling performance (Median: 3.5 vs. 2.5, Z = 2.135, p = 0.033). Decline in blood bicarbonate during exercise was higher for NaHCO3 given in solution compared to capsules (2.7 ± 2.1 mmol·L−1, p = 0.001). Mediation analyses showed that improvements in TTE cycling were indirectly related to expectancy and decline in blood bicarbonate when NaHCO3 was administered in solution but not capsules. Conclusions: Participants’ higher expectations when NaHCO3 is administered in solution could result in them exerting themselves harder during TTE cycling, which subsequently leads to a greater decline in blood bicarbonate and larger improvements in performance. Key Points: Ingesting 0.3

Original languageEnglish
Article number65
JournalSports Medicine - Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2023


  • Beliefs
  • Ergogenic aids
  • Extracellular buffering
  • High-intensity exercise
  • Placebo effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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