Creatine, sodium bicarbonate combo boosts athletes' anaerobic performance

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Taekwondo heavily emphasizes various kicks, more so than other combat sports. Image © kzenon / Getty Images
Taekwondo heavily emphasizes various kicks, more so than other combat sports. Image © kzenon / Getty Images

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A study done on taekwondo athletes has found that a blend of creatine with sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, boosted their performance on an anaerobic kick test.

Taekwondo, a martial art that originated in South Korea, is an increasingly popular international competitive sport that became part of the Summer Olympics in 1988.  Matches are structured as three 2-minute rounds separated by 1-minute rest periods.  

Taekwondo heavily emphasizes various kicks, more so than other combat sports, which might rely on punches, throws or grappling moves.  The ability to deliver repeated kicks quickly and accurately despite fatigue state can be a winning difference in a match.

The research was published recently in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition​.  It was conducted by a group of researchers based in Iran and Canada.

Ample evidence for constituents in isolation

The researchers noted there is prior evidence to support the pairing of these two ingredients.  Sodium bicarbonate has been shown to boost the body’s intracellular and extracellular buffering capacity, thus ameliorating the reduction in performance that can arise from the rapid buildup of reactive oxygen species during intense anaerobic exercise. It may also enhance the contribution of the glycolytic energy system, which is how the body accesses ready energy stores when there’s not enough oxygen available to meet immediate energy demands.

On the creatine side there’s even more evidence.  A JISSN position paper from 2017 states: “Studies have consistently shown that creatine supplementation increases intramuscular creatine concentrations which may help explain the observed improvements in high intensity exercise performance leading to greater training adaptations. In addition to athletic and exercise improvement, research has shown that creatine supplementation may enhance post-exercise recovery, injury prevention, thermoregulation, rehabilitation, and concussion and/or spinal cord neuroprotection.”

Study divided into five arms

To test the effect of the creatine/sodium bicarbonate combo, the researchers recruited 55 male taekwondo athletes competing in Iran’s professional league.  The subjects for the randomized, placebo-controlled study were divided into 5 groups.  One received  the test material, which was 20 grams of creatine and 500 mg/kg of sodium bicarbonate.  Other groups ingested materials that substituted a placebo for one or the other of these ingredients, while a fourth group consumed a product that was wholly placebo materials.  A fifth group took neither placebo nor test material and acted as a control.

The subjects ingested the test materials and placebos for seven days, then performed what the researchers called a ‘Taekwondo anaerobic intermittent kick test (TAIKT).’  In this, the subjects delivered as many roundhouse kicks as possible to a punching bag that was set up to measure the force of the delivered kicks.  A roundhouse kick is a kick delivered by the back foot in a sweeping motion to deliver a strike with the front of the arch of the foot.  It’s a whole body movement that’s one of the most taxing in the taekwondo repertoire.

The TAIKT required the subjects to deliver as many kicks as possible in five seconds. Those spurts were repeated six times, separated by 10 seconds of ‘active recovery,’ which the athletes bounced in place in a guard position, much as they might in an actual match.  In addition to recording the number and power of the kicks the researchers also analyzed blood samples drawn prior to the test, immediately after and a third one drawn at three minutes post test.

Results confirm benefit of combination

The researchers noted there is limited research on this combination, though ample evidence for the two constituents used alone.  As such, they found a benefit to using creating and sodium bicarbonate together.

“The current study found improvements in peak power and mean power compared to a placebo or control when creatine and sodium bicarbonate were ingested alone using a taekwondo specific test. Co-ingestion of creatine with sodium bicarbonate further augmented mean power compared to creatine and sodium bicarbonate alone,”​ they concluded.

Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
18​, Article number: 10 (2021)
Short-term co-ingestion of creatine and sodium bicarbonate improves anaerobic performance in trained taekwondo athletes
Authors: Sarshin A, et al.

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