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

Gurton, William H. and Matta, Guilherme G. and Gough, Lewis A. and Ranchordas, Mayur Krachna and King, David G. and Hurst, Philip (2023) Sodium Bicarbonate and Time-to-Exhaustion Cycling Performance: A Retrospective Analysis Exploring the Mediating Role of Expectation. Sports Medicine - Open, 9 (1). p. 65. ISSN 2199-1170

Gurton 2023 - mediation effects.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (1MB)



Research has shown that ingesting 0.3 g·kg body mass sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO) can improve time-to-exhaustion (TTE) cycling performance, but the influence of psychophysiological mechanisms on ergogenic effects is not yet understood.


This study retrospectively examined whether changes in TTE cycling performance are mediated by positive expectations of receiving NaHCO and/or the decline in blood bicarbonate during exercise.


In a randomised, crossover, counterbalanced, double-blind, placebo-controlled design, 12 recreationally trained cyclists (maximal oxygen consumption, 54.4 ± 5.7 mL·kg·min) performed four TTE cycling tests 90 min after consuming: (1) 0.3 g·kg body mass NaHCO in 5 mL·kg body mass solution, (2) 0.03 g·kg body mass sodium chloride in solution (placebo), (3) 0.3 g·kg body mass NaHCO 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.


Administering NaHCO 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, NaHCO 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 NaHCO given in solution compared to capsules (2.7 ± 2.1 mmol·L, p = 0.001). Mediation analyses showed that improvements in TTE cycling were indirectly related to expectancy and decline in blood bicarbonate when NaHCO was administered in solution but not capsules.


Participants' higher expectations when NaHCO 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.


Ingesting 0.3 g·kg body mass sodium bicarbonate in solution and capsules improved time-to-exhaustion cycling performance Positive expectancy about the benefits of sodium bicarbonate and decline in blood bicarbonate were higher when sodium bicarbonate was administered in solution compared with capsules Improvements in time-to-exhaustion cycling performance for sodium bicarbonate administered in solution were related to expectancy and the enhanced extracellular buffering response.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number:
12 July 2023Accepted
31 July 2023Published Online
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ergogenic aids, Placebo effect, Beliefs, Extracellular buffering, High-intensity exercise
Subjects: CAH03 - biological and sport sciences > CAH03-02 - sport and exercise sciences > CAH03-02-01 - sport and exercise sciences
Divisions: Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences > Centre for Life and Sport Sciences (C-LASS)
Depositing User: Lewis Gough
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2023 10:22
Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 10:22

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


In this section...