This article is guest blogged by Brett Warren, a Biochemical Engineer from Force Factor.
The Importance of PH Balance in the Athletic Body
With all the talk you hear these days about physical fitness, proper nutrition, balanced diet, good body maintenance, energy sustenance, strength, stamina, and staying in shape, how much do you hear about your pH level? Do you even know what it is? If not, maybe you should. The pH level is one of the most important balance systems of the human body. It affects the body’s entire metabolic process. In fact, next to breathing and sustaining a heartbeat, the most important metabolic function our body performs is maintaining a functional pH level.
OK, so what exactly is this pH level anyway? Well, the scientific explanation is pretty straightforward— the term pH stands for “potential of Hydrogen” and it describes the amount of hydrogen ions in a particular solution. The more ions present in a solution, the more acidic the solution is. A solution with fewer ions contains a higher concentration of alkaline. The pH level is a measure of acidity or alkalinity, and it slides on a scale of zero to fourteen, with zero representing the highest acidity, fourteen depicting the most alkaline and seven being mid-range. To give you a general idea of what these ratings represent, battery acid has a pH level of zero whereas bleach has a level approaching the maximum of 14. In terms of things you intake, acidy foods like grapefruit and tomato juice have very low pH levels, while baking soda and Milk of Magnesia have high levels. Water is right smack in the middle, with a pH level of 7.
OK, so how does all this relate to the human body? Well, like any liquid solution, blood has a pH level too. And in the same way that the body functions well only in a very narrow range of body temperature (98.6 degrees being normal), the pH level in the blood also needs to stay within a very narrow range. In fact, it is important that blood pH stays within the range of 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly on the alkaline side of middle-of-the-road. When blood pH levels become too acidic, an environment is created for bacteria or viruses to enter and start to thrive, leading to illness, aches, and lack of energy, among other things. This is important for all of us to know, but if you are an athlete, it is doubly important.
The good news? Just being an athlete in itself helps mitigate the problem. Regular workouts with a good aerobic base help to flush the lactic acid out. A good blood circulation and oxygen uptake can do a lot to help maintain a proper level of pH balance in the body. The bad news? Well, diet plays a huge part too. Look at the average North American diet and what you see is a lot of coffee, protein, and dairy products, all of which can contribute to an overly acidic diet. Recent studies have shown a link between the typical modern diet and a condition known as low grade chronic metabolic acidosis, which can lead to a lot of things which affect athletic performance, none of them good. One of the big side effects, as described in this article, is bone weakening. As the article states, a growing body of literature has documented the association between low grade chronic metabolic acidosis and detrimental impacts on bone, including bone loss. Another potential side effect (proteolysis) can affect the muscles, and you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to know that there are few things more important to top-notch athletic performance than strong muscles.
So what are some of the things that athletes can do to help keep their pH balance on the right track?
Here is a useful checklist:
1) First, see your doctor!
2) Start watching your intake more closely. A good rule of thumb is to make your diet consist of no more than 25% acid-producing foods and liquids; and at least 75% alkaline-producing foods and liquids.
3) Know which items (acid-producing) to avoid. Here are some:
- Soft drinks
- Meats (especially red meat)
- White flour products
- Sweeteners (except raw unpasteurized honey)
4) Know which items (alkaline-producing) to consume more of. Some of these are:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Alkaline water
5) Educate yourself further. A good book on the subject of what to eat and what to stay away from is “The pH Miracle” by Dr. Robert O. Young.
PH balance may not be talked about a lot but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. The pH level in our bodies affects all of our cells, and a consistently imbalanced pH level won’t translate well when it comes to the proper functioning of the body system. When the pH is unbalanced, almost any area of the body can be affected. But the effects are even more noticeable for athletes, who can measure them very easily by tracking performance. If you are an athlete, then following the right steps can reap you rewards. Knowing the importance of pH balance is step one. Doing something about it is step two. And step three is seeing positive results in your athletic performance.
About the Author
Brett Warren is a biochemical engineer from Boston, Massachusetts who develops sports supplements for Force Factor. He has done extensive research on nutrition and is an expert on nutraceutical science. He also has a passion for fitness and health. Brett’s work at Force Factor is supplemented by an active family life with plenty of gym time and outdoor recreation.