Listener question on topical bicarbonate

This question comes from long-time listener, James R. He asks a great question about topical bicarbonate:

"I have a question about products like Amp Human. I tried it out the other day on a recent MTB ride and it lives up to what it’s advertised to do. I hardly felt any burn in my legs during the ride. Although I was still limited by my fitness and was just as tired at the end of that as I would any ride without using the Amp Human lotion.

So my question is, being the product buffers the burn from lactate acid would that detrimental for adaptation? I know the body needs inflammation to cause adaptations to training, wouldn’t this be the same with the body adapting to buffer lactate build up in the muscles? Say I’m doing workout with 3 min Vo2max intervals (say 5x3min at 120% of ftp) would it be better to just let my body adapt naturally or should I use the lotion and go at a little harder intensity? Would it be better to use this product for just races and hard rides and not for specific high intensity workouts?

HI Jim,

Good question about Amp Human. They actually reached out to us a while back and we did look into them. We’re very particular about who we allow to advertise and to be honest, we were mixed on them. Their product is a topical bicarbonate. And there is a decent body of research building recently showing that topical bicarbonate is better than the ingested form (such as sodium bicarbonate.) The problem with drinking/swallowing sodium bicarbonate is that it can cause a lot of GI issues and the effects only last a few minutes. Topical bicarbonate appears to have similar benefits but without the bloating and also appears to last longer. So, there’s definitely something to it.

Bicarbonate itself is a powerful and quick acting acid buffer. Remember though that it’s just buffering hydrogen ions (acid.) Lactate is not an acid. In fact, lactate is a base which is the exact opposite of an acid and acts as a buffer itself.

So the answer to your question is not black and white and it’s a very good question. Using Amp Human may prevent your natural buffering systems from adapting. But the best way to training your natural buffering is with that just sub-threshold work we’ve talked about on the show. So, when doing that type of work, I’d probably give Amp Human a pass. In terms of very high-end work (such as 3 min intervals,) Amp Human will allow you to go a little harder and a little longer. So it will theoretically improve your gains. My concerns would actually be whether it allows you to go too hard and do too much damage that delays your recovery. But I think if you’re smart and don’t allow yourself to overdo it too much, it’s probably beneficial/ergogenic.

Hope that helps!


1 Like

I have had the same question. Glad you addressed it!

One thing I’ll add is that on the ingredients list you will find menthol. Menthol is also used in topical analgesics to help relieve pain. So aside from any benefits that might come from the bicarbonate, there might be performance gains from reducing the pain in your legs which probably confound the studies.

I have used it. I won’t say that it’s life changing. Bengay is also way cheaper than Amp.


Great point and I have read that. Certainly makes a lot of intuitive sense.


For one of their ‘competitors’, Lactigo, Menthol is the only active ingredient (see below), and there is no bicarbonate. I must say I’m a little skeptical at this point, as it is hard to control for the placebo effect, especially for individual testimonials.

A couple of thoughts/questions I have on this topic:

  • Since this is buffering acid in the blood, it shouldn’t matter where you put this on your body. Ie, the stuff you rub on your legs doesn’t go from your skin into your muscles, it goes into your blood, and buffers the acid there. You should get the same buffering effect from covering other parts of you body than your legs, and this would help control for whether the menthol is really an ‘active’ component or not.
  • I’m wondering if there is enough bicarbonate in the lotion to make a difference. I tried to do the math on this myself, but I couldn’t find a good answer to the rate at which lactate/H+ ions are produced, and the rest of the analysis is a bit much for me. If you have this, it should be possible to go from how much bicarb is in a ‘serving’ of AMP and how much lactate (or excess lactate) an athlete produces to get a limit on the maximum possible effect. I’d be interested to see someone with the right background do this type of analysis.

At the end of the day, these could just be expensive, cycling specific versions of “Ben-gay” with some placebo effect :slight_smile:

What ingredients are in LactiGo? LactiGo has been certified to meet the requirements and standards of Informed Sport. Active Ingredients: Menthol 1.25%. Inactive Ingredients: Ethoxdiglycol, Glycerine, L-Carnosine, Magnesium Sulphate, Phenoxyethanol, Water, Xanthan Gum.

In doing a few searches, I came across a review of Lactigo that pointed to this study on topical bicarbonate that didn’t show a buffering benefit:

The full text is not open access, but the summary provides a good overview.
This at least seems to undermine the purported mechanism that AMP promotes may not be really what is going on.