Monday, January 25, 2010

pHinding nutritional balance

As published in the Jan 2010 first issue of Rocky Mountain Running and Triathlon.

Calories in versus calories out. That is usually the first thing that comes to mind when athletes go about changing their daily eating habits for the better. Sometimes one might even go a little farther in order to perform better and think about how much protein they should be eating, or healthier fats, or the glycemic index of carbohydrates. It is true that being aware of how protein, fats and carbs affect your health and performance is good place to start. But, believe it or not, there is even a deeper level of nutrition knowledge. This next level of choosing food wisely lies in one’s understanding of how food affects the pH of your body’s fluids.

pH is the measure of hydrogen ions concentrations in the body. What is the big deal about hydrogen ions? Well, too many hydrogen ions released during intense aerobic/anaerobic exercise are what cause the acidic burn in the muscle tissue, not lactic acid. The memory of that feeling brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? So if an acidic state of muscle tissue causes that kind of discomfort, then what about too many hydrogen ions in your body fluids like saliva, blood and urine? A big ouch on internal health, for sure! And where do many of these acidic ions come from? FOOD!

Understand that the body is trying to remain in an alkaline state of around 7.35-7.45 on the pH scale with muscle tissue being slightly lower. If you eat in such a way to throw that out of balance on a daily basis then you end up with an environment that breeds sickness, not health. You can relate this to adjusting soil in order to grow food in or adjusting water conditions to keep fish alive in. If your body’s fluids are not adjusted to the right pH, then the acidic environment is a great place to grow things you don’t want like yeast, fungus, bacteria and viruses. It is also a place where you perpetuate inflammatory condition like arthritis, create heartburn and replicate irregular cells (cancer.) Lastly, because the body seeks for an alkaline state in order to stay pH balanced, an acidic environment will rob the bones of calcium (and other minerals) and rob the muscles of nitrogen to try to correct the pH. This ends up being a MAJOR cause of osteoporosis and some muscle tissue loss. So, even if you supplement with calcium and magnesium, but eat acidic foods, all your efforts go to waste as your body steals those minerals from the bone to neutralize the extra acid in the body. Robin Hood would just not approve of and will not fight for that kind of transfer of bodily wealth!

Thanks to nature, you do have a quiver full of flaming arrows to fight off excessive Hydrogen ions. There are many foods that, when eaten, leave an alkaline ash. That means that they sponge up and remove the acids. I am sure you can guess what kinds of foods these might be. And you are right if you guessed produce. Yep, produce is the biggest provider of alkaline minerals. Does that mean you should only eat produce? If you are looking for optimal health and performance, then NO.WAY! The human body still has a need for a small amount of neutral and acidic foods. The trick is to eat about 75% of the volume of food you eat in alkaline foods and the other 25% acidic. So that 25%, remember this is by volume, is where your high quality, lean proteins fit in as well as good oils and small amounts of whole grain on occasion. Remember that is all about balance so being too extreme with acidic or alkaline food causes a problem.

So how does this look on a daily eating plan? Well, starting off the day with a protein shake (Whey protein is alkaline by the way) that has fruit and flax oil in it is great. If your blender is broken, then heat up water and mix your protein and oil in the water while eating your piece of fruit on the side. Or fruit alongside a quick scrambled egg dish cooked on medium heat with lots of veggies like onion, spinach, tomato, broccoli or whatever you have. Any scrambled egg dish can be prepared ahead of time and reheated in the microwave too. Lunch and dinner should center around servings of lean protein combined with lots of raw/lightly steamed vegetables. A big fat dark green salad with all kinds of chopped veggies and a homemade dressing is the best! You can add fruit and nuts to this salad for a gourmet treat. Aim for one of these alkaline feasts a day (see recipe article in this edition). Snacks can be in the form of protein shakes, raw veggies dipped in homemade dressing or fruit and nuts.

Alkaline liquids exist also. Some people make a habit out of waking up and drinking a glass of water with a little bit of lemon or lime squeezed in. That may sound counterintuitive since citrus fruit is considered acidic. Well, before digestion it is acidic, but by the time it hits the blood stream it leaves an alkaline ash. Crazy but true. Any “green drink” or freshly made vegetable juice will be great. And mixing the vitamin packets called EmergnC in water will also alkalize. It is really nice to use any of the above drink ideas in combination with a meal that you know is probably too acidic. At least, you can help neutralize the damage. Well, except for downing your typical can of soda. It takes 25 glasses of alkaline water to neutralize that!

But, what about post-workout drinks? I mean it seems pretty logical that you finish workouts in an acidic state. Actually any stress on the body, including emotional stress causes acidity. Unfortunately commercial replenishment drinks will be acidic, so some athletes choose to make another protein shake and add fresh squeezed juice, honey or some carbo pro in order to get enough post workout carbs. Or slamming some “green drink” alongside the commercial product can help.

I am sure that I didn’t surprise you that Nature’s foods are mostly alkaline. Knowing this should help any athlete in making deeper commitments to eating whole food with a strong emphasis on produce at each meal. Just remember too, that the act of training causes extra imbalances and a whole lot of destruction cellularly. If you want the best chance at recovery, a stronger immune system, low levels of inflammation and a body free of disease, then think alkaline!

These way cool charts are from Lots of great articles in the article section!

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

Good stuff. We've been working to watch our pH balance (food-wise) for the past few months, and I convinced it's making a difference.