Do Alkaline Diets Help Athletic Performance?

4.4/5 - (63 votes)

Can reducing acid-forming foods and boosting alkaline-forming foods replicate the performance-enhancing effects of sodium bicarbonate without the adverse effects?

Discuss
Republish

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Theoretically, bathing your muscles in an alkaline environment should enable faster acid removal from muscle cells, delaying the muscle fatigue that’s due to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscle. Given these buffering effects, no wonder sodium bicarbonate—in other words, baking soda—has been found to have such significant ergogenic or performance-enhancing effects on muscular endurance. The problem with loading with baking soda is that it frequently causes severe gastrointestinal distress, and at standard doses you could easily take in twice the recommended upper daily limit of sodium in just that one load. Therefore, what about a low-acid diet, which focuses on high intakes of fruits and vegetables? That may be an attractive alternative to bicarbonate loading for improving anaerobic exercise performance, meaning short-burst activity like sprinting.

Today’s diets are acid-forming, meaning higher in animal foods with fewer vegetables and fruits; whereas in general, the alkaline-promoting diet is centered around whole plant foods, with few processed foods and less meat, dairy, and eggs, which are accepted as acid-forming foods.

Although alkalinizing chemicals such as sodium bicarbonate have been shown to consistently improve performance, alkalinizing diets do not demonstrate the same effect. A review of ten studies that investigated the effect of high versus low dietary acid loads on athletic performance did not find consistently improved exercise performance at maximal or submaximal exercise intensities. However, maybe they just didn’t go alkaline enough.

For example, in this study, they had people eat more fruits and vegetables, and less meat, cheese, cereals, and eggs, but saw no dierences in any performance-related parameters. But a sufficiently alkaline diet is characterized by the production of alkaline urine––a pH of pee at least 7 or higher. If you look at what the participants achieved, most failed to meet the benchmark; so, their diet may just not have been alkaline-forming enough.

In this study showing enhanced 400-meter sprint performance, they were able to swap out enough meat, eggs, cheese, and cereal products, and swap in enough fruits and vegetables that they were just barely able to make 7. And they did get a little performance boost, suggesting that it is possible to improve sprint performance by consuming alkalizing natural foods and beverages, without the ingestion of baking soda. Thus, an alkalizing diet may be an easy and natural way to enhance performance; however, the performance enhancement was only about 2 percent—just a few seconds. But check out this study.

The same general strategy: more fruits and vegetables, and less of the acid-promoting foods, such as meats, cheeses, and refined grains; but they weren’t messing around. Six to eight cups of vegetables, plus more than four servings of fruit a day, got their urine up over 7, and they had a 21 percent performance enhancement. That’s extraordinary.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean it has anything to do with the pH. I mean, they ate more vegetables, which contain dietary nitrates, which alone acutely improve exercise performance. It’s possible that nitrates might have enhanced exercise performance during the low-acid trial. However, that would entail extracting more energy from every breath, and they didn’t find that. But any time you make huge changes in people’s diets, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made the critical difference. But these extra benefits are a feature, not a bug. Because a more alkaline-forming diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, and deplete of many unhealthy foods, a low-acid diet could not only provide exercise performance benefits, but might also reduce chronic disease risk.

Any performance benefits in non-athletes? The effect of an alkaline diet on body composition and aerobic exercise performance of sedentary women. A randomized controlled trial, swapping in vegetable protein sources like legumes for animal protein sources and … a greater decrease in weight, body fat mass, lactic acid accumulation, and perceived exertion levels, all the while exhibiting a boost in exercise performance duration and VO2Max levels, which is a measure of fitness. Again, pH could just be one of many explanations why eating healthier could make you perform better, but either way, we should recommend athletes of all ages focus on consuming ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, if only to maintain long-term health.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Theoretically, bathing your muscles in an alkaline environment should enable faster acid removal from muscle cells, delaying the muscle fatigue that’s due to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscle. Given these buffering effects, no wonder sodium bicarbonate—in other words, baking soda—has been found to have such significant ergogenic or performance-enhancing effects on muscular endurance. The problem with loading with baking soda is that it frequently causes severe gastrointestinal distress, and at standard doses you could easily take in twice the recommended upper daily limit of sodium in just that one load. Therefore, what about a low-acid diet, which focuses on high intakes of fruits and vegetables? That may be an attractive alternative to bicarbonate loading for improving anaerobic exercise performance, meaning short-burst activity like sprinting.

Today’s diets are acid-forming, meaning higher in animal foods with fewer vegetables and fruits; whereas in general, the alkaline-promoting diet is centered around whole plant foods, with few processed foods and less meat, dairy, and eggs, which are accepted as acid-forming foods.

Although alkalinizing chemicals such as sodium bicarbonate have been shown to consistently improve performance, alkalinizing diets do not demonstrate the same effect. A review of ten studies that investigated the effect of high versus low dietary acid loads on athletic performance did not find consistently improved exercise performance at maximal or submaximal exercise intensities. However, maybe they just didn’t go alkaline enough.

For example, in this study, they had people eat more fruits and vegetables, and less meat, cheese, cereals, and eggs, but saw no dierences in any performance-related parameters. But a sufficiently alkaline diet is characterized by the production of alkaline urine––a pH of pee at least 7 or higher. If you look at what the participants achieved, most failed to meet the benchmark; so, their diet may just not have been alkaline-forming enough.

In this study showing enhanced 400-meter sprint performance, they were able to swap out enough meat, eggs, cheese, and cereal products, and swap in enough fruits and vegetables that they were just barely able to make 7. And they did get a little performance boost, suggesting that it is possible to improve sprint performance by consuming alkalizing natural foods and beverages, without the ingestion of baking soda. Thus, an alkalizing diet may be an easy and natural way to enhance performance; however, the performance enhancement was only about 2 percent—just a few seconds. But check out this study.

The same general strategy: more fruits and vegetables, and less of the acid-promoting foods, such as meats, cheeses, and refined grains; but they weren’t messing around. Six to eight cups of vegetables, plus more than four servings of fruit a day, got their urine up over 7, and they had a 21 percent performance enhancement. That’s extraordinary.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean it has anything to do with the pH. I mean, they ate more vegetables, which contain dietary nitrates, which alone acutely improve exercise performance. It’s possible that nitrates might have enhanced exercise performance during the low-acid trial. However, that would entail extracting more energy from every breath, and they didn’t find that. But any time you make huge changes in people’s diets, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made the critical difference. But these extra benefits are a feature, not a bug. Because a more alkaline-forming diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, and deplete of many unhealthy foods, a low-acid diet could not only provide exercise performance benefits, but might also reduce chronic disease risk.

Any performance benefits in non-athletes? The effect of an alkaline diet on body composition and aerobic exercise performance of sedentary women. A randomized controlled trial, swapping in vegetable protein sources like legumes for animal protein sources and … a greater decrease in weight, body fat mass, lactic acid accumulation, and perceived exertion levels, all the while exhibiting a boost in exercise performance duration and VO2Max levels, which is a measure of fitness. Again, pH could just be one of many explanations why eating healthier could make you perform better, but either way, we should recommend athletes of all ages focus on consuming ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, if only to maintain long-term health.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

For more on athletes, see my video Why All Athletes Should Eat Plant-Based Diets.

In my first series on athletes, I took us way back in history. Check out:

How do you know if your diet is alkaline? Check out Testing Your Diet with Pee and Purple Cabbage.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here. Read our important information about translations here.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This