Answer to Question #182560 in Biochemistry for Min

Question #182560

Would the use of pH buffers help prevent muscle fatigue during exercise?

Expert's answer

Skeletal contraction in high frequency as in vigorous physical exercise leads to muscle fatigue and a lowered intracellular pH. Fatigue-induced alterations and recovery of muscle contractile properties correlate with the recovery of intracellular pH (pHi) and suggest that increased H+ is causative in fatigue.

Performance during continuous or intermittent high-intensity exercise can be limited, at least in part, by the accumulation of hydrogen ions (H+) which reduce muscle pH and interfere with muscle contractile and metabolic processes.

H+ accumulation in the muscle cells and blood can be buffered in many different ways, but few of these can be altered by nutrition. The exceptions are the intracellular buffer, carnosine, and the extracellular buffer, bicarbonate. Nutritional interventions with carnosine and bicarbonate might therefore enhance fatigue resistance and improve performance during high-intensity exercise.

Muscle carnosine concentration can be increased by dietary supplementation with ß-alanine (approximately 3–6 g of ß-alanine per day for 4–8 wk) whereas extracellular bicarbonate concentration can be increased by about 20% following ingestion of sodium bicarbonate (~0.3 g per kg body mass 1-2 h before exercise).

There is evidence that both ß-alanine and sodium bicarbonate ingestion can enhance exercise performance during single or repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise in which energy is supplied predominantly through anaerobic glycolysis.

To ensure that the potential benefit of supplementation with bicarbonate or ß-alanine outweigh any negative side effects, it is important for athletes to practice their supplementation strategy prior to competition.


Artioli, G.G., B. Gualano, A. Smith, J. Stout, and A.H. Lancha (2010). Role of Beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 42:1162-1173.

Baguet, A., K. Koppo, A. Pottier, and W. Derave (2010). Beta-alanine supplementation reduces acidosis but not oxygen uptake response during high-intensity cycling exercise. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 108:495-503.

Berger, N.J., L.R. McNaughton, S. Keatley, D.P. Wilkerson, and A.M. Jones (2006). Sodium bicarbonate ingestion alters the slow but not the fast phase of VO2 kinetics. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 38:1909-1917.

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