Staying Buffed: The Truth Behind the Acidity of Training

by:  Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, The Running Nutritionist®

Survival in sport & life comes down to our body’s ability to maintain a narrow range of acidity and alkalinity in the body, in technical terms a pH value of 7.0 when measured in blood and bodily fluids.

Fortunately, our body, primarily the lungs & kidneys, do a good job at maintaining pH balance by producing endogenous compounds called buffers when we become either too acidic pH < 7.0 or alkaline pH >7.0. That’s a good thing. Because when your body is in either direction, it will impact your running performance, recovery and overall health.

You see, during intense training, the breakdown of sugars from muscles for fuel leads to lactic acid build-up and a decrease in pH called metabolic acidosis.  Some athletes feel the “burn” of the workout while others experience nausea, headaches, dizziness, muscle pain, &fatigue—does that sound like you?

Are you training hard but getting no results?

Acidosis effects your body’s ability to transfer energy, contract muscles, increase & maintain muscle mass, support bone & worst of all, increase cortisol level, the stress hormone when elevated, breaks down the body & your health.  When the body needs to, it will also release calcium from bones and glutamine from muscles to assist in buffering. This can lead to decreased bone & muscle mass.

When the body is acidic, it requires a great deal of energy to restore normal pH levels. This places a greater energy demand on the body and uses valuable fuel that should be used for training and performance. Therefore, to perform optimally in life, you need to keep your PH balance in check.

Exhaling during exercise is one way your body releases carbon dioxide, excess hydrogen, the element responsible for acidity, and bring the body back to a neutral pH. Diet is another way to get your body back on track.

The Buffed Diet

Eating a buffering diet means getting enough fruits and vegetables, alkalizing foods instead of meat, eggs, fish, dairy products, grains, nuts, legumes, and highly processed foods which are acid-forming. When metabolized, these foods produce acid precursors, which eventually lead to acid formation.

If you don’t love fruits and veggies, here are a few simple buffering tips:

  • Match it up—1 fruit or veggie as a side to each main meal or snack, i.e. low fat cheese stick and apple.
  • Go fresh! Avoid highly processed foods such as chips, baked goods, frozen meals, canned soups, etc.
  • Replace some of your animal protein main courses like burgers and meatballs with veggie versions, beans, nuts or seeds which are less acid-forming.
  • Try a new grain like buckwheat, quinoa, and wild rice, which are less acid-producing than white flour products.
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