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Soda Doping Raises Ethical Issues as Performance-Enhancing Aid

by Matrix Admin | Aug 01, 2011
Researcher says sodium bicarbonate should be banned from competition

INDIANAPOLIS– Although a researcher has found considerable evidence that ingestion of baking soda prior to an event heightens performance, he believes the method should be banned as an ergogenic aid.

Ronald W. Deitrick, Ph.D., FACSM, presented his findings today at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), held in Indianapolis. In his study, nine competitive 800-meter runners were given either a placebo or sodium bicarbonate capsule, both tasteless, washed down with 500 milliliters of a mixed-water beverage. Some test subjects did not benefit at all from taking the soda capsules, but Deitrick says enough did to make it an appealing way for middle distance runners to load before an event.

“If you took out the participants that experienced negative side effects from the soda capsules, such as gastrointestinal discomfort, you’d see an average improvement in running times of about 2.2 seconds,” Deitrick said. “For a relatively short running distance, that’s very significant.”

A pre-study performed by Deitrick showed that sodium bicarbonate should be taken approximately an hour and a half prior to competition to be most effective, and that most athletes take around 20 grams of the substance.

Deitrick says that the gastrointestinal side effects of soda doping are typically not severe, with diarrhea being the worst symptom. But because certain runners experienced no side effects and a significant improvement in race times, he believes sodium bicarbonate should be treated like certain other aids, such as creatine, and shouldn’t have a place in competition.

“It comes down to the question of whether or not the athlete has a competitive advantage by taking the aid,” Deitrick said. “And in this case, I believe the answer is yes. I think it violates the spirit of fair play by artificially enhancing performance.”

Deitrick says that soda doping cannot be compared to carbohydrate loading prior to competition, because carbs can be naturally found in many foods. Sodium bicarbonate, however, isn’t typically eaten. He says soda loading probably hasn’t been banned from competition yet because it hasn’t been studied enough using field-based performance studies or as much as other ergogenic aids.

ACSM has long been a proponent of prohibiting any substance that may unfairly enhance performance in athletes. In mid-2007, the organization announced a partnership with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to encourage integrity and stringent anti-doping standards in sports.

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The  American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world.  More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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