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You may have heard about the benefits of an alkaline diet...can it help you as a footballer and athlete? YES, but not for the reasons many supporters of the alkaline diet claim.
Maintaining an optimal pH in the body is important for all bodily functions, including your exercise performance. The blood pH value falling out of the normal range is a very serious health issue and will become fatal if left untreated. However, this only happens in certain diseases.
When the body becomes acidic, muscle breakdown occurs, recovery is hindered and strength levels are reduced. Acidity in the body is also associated with lower levels of human growth hormone, which is important for both mental and physical performance as well as optimal body composition.
Again, any slight change in the body's ph will only occur in people suffering from certain diseases which affect the body's ability to maintain it's normal ph. Your body naturally works to maintain it's optimal ph level, otherwise as mentioned above your cells can't function, which is fatal.
There’s also some evidence that alkalinity may be related to insulin sensitivity, which is important for being able to utilise carbohydrates properly. As I’m sure you know, carbohydrates are key for performing well on the pitch.
In order to maintain optimal health, your body needs to maintain a pH blood level of around 7.4, which is considered alkaline. The pH value is a measure of how acidic or alkaline something is and ranges from 0 to 14. A pH level of 0 to 7 is considered acidic, 7 is neutral and 7-14 is alkaline (sometimes called basic).
Your body’s blood pH range must stay between 7.35 to 7.45 in order to survive. Although blood requires a pH of 7.4, this varies a lot between different parts of the body. For example, the stomach contains a lot of hydrochloric acid, giving it a pH value between 2 and 3.5, which is highly acidic. This is necessary for you to be able to break down food properly.
Your blood pH is tightly controlled by a process called acid base homeostasis. This process ensures that your blood maintains an optimal pH to prevent important enzymes and proteins from becoming denatured.
The body’s pH can only be determined by a blood test. You can also measure the pH of urine but this just tells you what your body is getting rid of, not the actual pH status of the body. Unless you have a chronic condition, you don’t need to worry about testing your body’s pH level.
The process of acid base homeostasis ensures that your body stays alkaline. Unless you have a chronic condition, your body will naturally regulate your pH level to keep you alive. You can change the pH of your urine, with alkaline based supplements and drinks but this doesn’t translate to the pH of your body as urine is just waste product. However, there have been some benefits reported of maintaining a diet high in alkaline foods, which we’ll address in the next section.
*It's interesting to note that there are foods such as lemons which are highly acidic outside of the body, but once digested in the body actually become alkaline. In the graphic below you'll notice it claims lemon water can balance your ph, as we've outlined - this is not possible.
The main benefit of the alkaline diet is that it is generally pretty healthy. It encourages you to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes and restricts intake of processed junk foods.
This diet certainly has benefits for general health, energy levels and your performance on the pitch. However, the benefits of an alkaline diet are not due to pH levels. Science has conclusively shown that diets cannot alter pH levels.
By making sure your eating habits are on point (especially around matches), you’ll stay in peak condition, on and off the pitch. If you are interested and open to trying an alkaline diet, it can absolutely improve your general health, energy and speed of recovery – just remember this is likely because an alkaline diet consists largely of fresh, nutritious, natural, unprocessed foods rather than being due to an actual change in your body’s ph level.
Anton, S. D., Lu, X., Bank, G., Heekin, K., Saha, D., Dubyak, P. J., & Hausenblas, H. A. (2013). Effect of a novel dietary supplement on pH levels of healthy volunteers: a pilot study. Journal of integrative medicine, 11(6), 384-388.
Schwalfenberg, G. K. (2012). The alkaline diet: is there evidence that an alkaline pH diet benefits health?. Journal of environmental and public health, 2012.
Ströhle, A., Hahn, A., & Sebastian, A. (2009). Estimation of the diet-dependent net acid load in 229 worldwide historically studied hunter-gatherer societies. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(2), 406-412.
Suthar, N. N., & Verma, A. P. ALKALINE DIET AND HEALTH-A BRIEF REVIEW.
Tucker, K. L., Hannan, M. T., & Kiel, D. P. (2001). The acid-base hypothesis: diet and bone in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. European journal of nutrition, 40(5), 231-237.