BRIEF REVIEW: Beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation in combat sports


Due to the repeat high intensity burst nature of combat sports, they are highly reliant on glycolytic mechanisms for energy production. Glycolysis results in intramuscular H+, which needs to be buffered via intracellular (phosphates, carnosine) and extracellular (bicarbonate) buffers and a dynamic buffering system. 

Supplementary Sodium Bicarbonate and Beta Alanine have both been shown to increase intermittent high intensity exercise performance in other sports. Sodium bicarbonate acts as an alkalizing agent, and helps attenuate exercise-induced decrease in intracellular pH. Beta alanine is an amino acid, the ingestion of which has been shown to increase muscle carnosine content, which helps in intracellular acid-base regulation. 

This systematic review studied data from 10 studies investigating the effects of either of these supplements on performance in a total of 197 athletes from judo, wrestling, BJJ, TKD, boxing and karate. Assessment methods included both non-specific (upper body and lower body wingate) and sport-specific (judo-specific fitness test, karate-specific aerobic test, number of strikes thrown and total attack time in sparring) tests.

Both acute and chronic (7-10 days) ingestion lead to improved performance in most studies, with effects of between 4.6% and 34% observed between different tests. Furthermore, combined ingestion of both supplements appeared to provide an additive effect (tested on a lower body wingate test). 

  1. Lopes-Silva JP, Franchini E. Effects of Isolated and Combined Ingestion of Sodium Bicarbonate and β-Alanine on Combat Sports Athletes’ Performance: A Systematic Review. Strength Cond J. 2020;

About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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By Sam Gilbert