The basics of sports science are pretty much understood and there isn’t much that has come out in the last few years that has been a genuinely new concept. What has changed is technologies have gotten better and our understanding of how to maximize concepts has improved. I believe sodium bicarbonate and PR Lotion is a perfect example. It’s not a new concept, but the route of delivery has changed now from oral to transdermal.
When I first started in nutrition and was working in cycling back in the 1990s, we explored the use of sodium bicarbonate with some positive effects. But the risk of a negative reaction outweighed the potential benefits. So sports performance professionals stopped talking about it and using it. Now that a technology exists that can sidestep the negative side effects, it’s worth exploring because the science behind sodium bicarbonate supplementation is there.
When you get to the professional level, most athletes have maximized their physiological performance and the opportunity for improvement is fractions of a percent. Therefore, podium finishes are the result of more than talent. They are the culmination of years of consistent training and fine-tuning recovery strategies needed to support it. Any tool that can improve one of those areas is important.
I was first introduced to PR Lotion by Simon Clarke; he’s a very accomplished pro cyclist and a believer in oral sodium bicarbonate. He told me PR Lotion worked for him and that I should take a look into it, so I reached out to my external support network. It turns out that one of the researchers I contacted was already working on a project focused on PR Lotion and had positive things to say.
In my own evaluation of any new product, there are 2 areas I always consider:
What is the scientific theory behind it?
Oral sodium bicarbonate is well researched but the drawback has always been the GI distress. PR Lotion is an interesting alternative. By getting sodium bicarbonate into the body through the skin, PR Lotion makes a proven supplement available for use on a regular basis.
What is the risk?
When it comes to risk, I focus on the potential adverse health effects and how a product fits in with anti-doping policies. Amp Human has done the legwork to become certified Informed Choice and Informed Sport so that covers the regulatory and they are cleared by the FDA, so product safety is there.
Knowing PR Lotion is a product that has solid theory and really low risk, I was comfortable bringing in our team doctor, Dr. Kevin Sprause. He has a great sports science understanding and I really value his insights and knowledge. We may not have been 100% sure about what to expect, but we had to explore what this could potentially do for our athletes. To be elite, to be cutting edge, you can’t always wait for the definitive science. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.
When introducing new products to my athletes, I’m always honest. The conversation is around the product, the potential benefits, the theory behind it, and the feedback I’ve gotten. Then ultimately it’s their choice. Athletes are usually willing to try something when there's no BS around it.
When we started using PR Lotion at EF Pro Cycling, we began with a training session. When the sessions went well or the rider didn’t perceive any effect, we then tested it out in a time trial training session. After those 2 sessions, we collected feedback that varied from “I’m not sure it did anything” to “I really like that stuff.” The key here is that there were ZERO negative side effects. No GI distress like with oral sodium bicarbonate. I wasn’t looking for massive changes immediately; sodium bicarbonate can be such a subtle thing and can have a bigger impact over time vs. immediate use, but no side effects confirmed there was now a safe and effective way to integrate bicarb as a performance aid to the team. After those trials, we saw significant enough improvements that we made PR Lotion part of the core routine to make sure it's available to those athletes that want to use it.
When it comes to routine, on race day, we work backward from the start time, pre-race meal, some recon work and look at applying PR Lotion 90 min before the start. Depending on the athlete, it gives them enough time to dress and start their warm-up 20-30 min before the race. In a training situation, we have the athletes apply the lotion before they head out on the ride.
There are a lot of questions around influencing muscle pH and how that may affect performance and recovery. When training or competing at or above the lactate threshold, the body produces more acid than it can process leading to a shift in pH. The higher acidity causes negative effects on muscle function and the biochemistry of the muscle so being able to alkalize the muscle to a preferred pH is something that's interesting.
For the athlete, where intensity and volume are important (ie training sessions and competition), the threshold can be a limiting factor in performance. By using PR Lotion, we can deliver sodium bicarbonate to the body, in the hope of delaying reaching that threshold. In doing so, we may be able to get better performance. The other key here is in alkalizing the tissues, we may help the muscle return to neutral pH more quickly aiding in the recovery process to prepare for the next day. In pro cycling, athletes have to perform day after day after day in training and in competition. Anything that can aid in that recovery should be looked at and evaluated.
The science behind the PR Lotion is still evolving but the feedback that we’ve gotten has been very positive. In my mind, the biggest benefits of PR Lotion are around recovery and how it supports training over time and in athletes that are competing multiple times over consecutive days.
I know PR Lotion is used across multiple sports in the USA and abroad and we’re seeing better recovery so we’ve added it to the suite of things we're trying to get done. It’s about maximizing recovery in a simple package and PR Lotion is a brilliant tool to help do that.