Use of Buffers in Specific Contexts: Highly Trained Female Athletes, Extreme Environments and Combined Buffering Agents - A Narrative Review


October 2023


This narrative review evaluated the evidence for buffering agents (sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate and beta-alanine), with specific consideration of three discrete scenarios: female athletes, extreme environments and combined buffering agents. Studies were screened according to exclusion and inclusion criteria and were analysed on three levels: (1) moderating variables (supplement dose and timing, and exercise test duration and intensity), (2) design factors (e.g., use of crossover or matched group study design, familiarisation trials) and (3) athlete-specific factors (recruitment of highly trained participants, buffering capacity and reported performance improvements). Only 19% of the included studies for the three buffering agents reported a performance benefit, and only 10% recruited highly trained athletes. This low transferability of research findings to athletes’ real-world practices may be due to factors including the small number of sodium citrate studies in females (n = 2), no studies controlling for the menstrual cycle (MC) or menstrual status using methods described in recently established frameworks, and the limited number of beta-alanine studies using performance tests replicating real-world performance efforts (n = 3). We recommend further research into buffering agents in highly trained female athletes that control or account for the MC, studies that replicate the demands of athletes’ heat and altitude camps, and investigations of highly trained athletes’ use of combined buffering agents. In a practical context, we recommend developing evidence-based buffering protocols for individual athletes which feature co-supplementation with other evidence-based products, reduce the likelihood of side-effects, and optimise key moderating factors: supplement dose and timing, and exercise duration and intensity.

Sports Med (2023) Epub ahead of print