What is the Alkaline Diet & Can it Improve Performance?
By Ashlea Lyons, AccSD.
With so many fad diets going around these days it’s hard to keep up with all the hype! One such craze which has withstood the test of time is the Alkaline Diet.
Established in 2010, the Alkaline Diet is based on the premise that different foods have different pH levels and can be classified as either acidic or alkaline. Consuming certain amounts of these alkaline or acidic foods is then said to influence the body’s internal pH levels.
According to its followers, a diet comprised of high-acid foods creates a state of ‘diet induced acidosis’ which leads to poor health. Specific to the athletic population, an overly acidic bodily pH is claimed to negatively impact performance by prolonging recovery time, weakening body tissues (leaving the athlete prone to sports injuries) and lowering energy levels. The diet encourages people to choose more alkaline foods to balance out acidic foods and advocates for an 80:20 ratio of alkaline to acid foods to create an optimal pH balance, which in turn results in optimal health.
In reality, this means cutting out acid-producing foods, including red meat, fish, poultry, dairy, sugar, grains, legumes, distilled water, some fruits… you get the gist!
Previously associated with benefits relating to general health and wellbeing, eating alkaline is now being increasingly promoted as a way for athletes to gain an extra edge over the competition. A quick search on Google brings up a plethora of hits—articles, blog posts, online forums—preaching the benefits of eating alkaline to improve performance. And with each article, new claims emerge:
“Alkaline Water will not only help you run faster, it will make you jump higher, and gain more strength now”
“Implementing the Alkaline Diet into your nutrition regime will [have athletes] notice their energy levels, stamina, endurance, and conditioning improve”
The Alkaline Diet has also been claimed to relieve osteoporosis, reduce inflammation and even to reduce cancer growth.
Celebrity endorsements? Tick. It has these too.
Elle Macpherson credits the Alkaline diet for getting ‘the Body’ back on track, while American Sports Nutritional Consultant Shan Stratton is also an advocate, attributing the achievements of his athletes to their use of Alkaline Water for rehydration. Kangen Alkaline Water, endorsed by Stratton, claims to “greatly enhance an athlete’s endurance, power output and recovery due to its ability to hydrate the body at a cellular level and efficiently buffer metabolic waste”.
But does the diet live up to all the hype?
First up, we must address the science that underpins the Alkaline Diet. We do this by questioning whether consuming a diet containing predominately alkaline food actually enables us to achieve this optimal pH balance.
Results? The short answer is no.
While the acidity/alkalinity of the foods we consume does have a direct effect on the pH of our urine, it does not impact the pH of the blood. The human body has many effective mechanisms set in place to closely regulate pH levels throughout the body, making it near impossible for outside influences to be of consequence. Basically, the body does a pretty good job of maintaining its own pH balance without us going on a diet to assist this.
To address the other claims, there is currently no evidence present in the literature to show that consuming a diet high in alkaline foods and beverages will enhance athletic performance in the ways explained above. Furthermore, I did not come across any evidence of a direct relationship between enhanced athletic performance and optimal acid-base balance.
Despite its shonky science base, a pro for the Alkaline Diet is that it encourages increased fruit and vegetable intake, and limits the consumption of processed foods high in refined sugars and saturated fats. However it still promotes the unnecessary omission of certain foods, including some fruits and vegetables. My advice if you’re set on going alkaline is to think of it as an opportunity to increase your vegetable consumption, or as a way to cut back the alcohol and fast food intake.
Now there’s a strategy to combat sluggish energy levels!