Unfortunately, many athletes are used to eating processed protein bars full of preservatives and other chemicals, drinking sugar loaded sports drink, or consuming loads of processed protein powders in false faith of improving performance. These “sport supplements” are highly acid forming and in that sense almost as bad as grabbing a soda, a candy bar or a bag of chips.
Acid-forming nutrition is detrimental to anybody’s health, but especially to athletes. An overly acidic body negatively impacts performance, prolongs recovery, decreases the intensity of training and increases the risk of injury. Paying attention to the alkaline-acidic balance, which means optimizing the body’s performance at the cellular level by maintaining an alkaline environment, will dramatically improve the athletic performance.
Your body and performance depend upon the health of your cells. You need to maintain proper pH (potential hydrogen) levels to maintain good cellular health. On the pH scale, 7 is neutral, any level below is acidic and any level above is alkaline.
Chemical processes are the most efficient at an ideal pH. The body functions best in a slightly alkaline state. The blood has a pH of 7.4 and dipping below 7.2 pH results in death. To avoid this your body will do whatever it takes to neutralize acidic waste and maintain homeostasis even if it means stealing from the surrounding tissues and bones the alkaline materials (calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron). While the body has its own smart buffering system (kidneys and lungs) to neutralize the acidic waste, sometimes it is not sufficient. Diets overabundant in meats, dairy, processed grains, sport drinks, sodas, and other processed foods, most prescription drugs, artificial sweeteners and synthetic vitamin and mineral supplements, in addition to mental stress, performance anxiety, environmental toxins and large amounts of acidic waste from frequent high-intensity training, will tax and deplete these buffering systems. When the buffer reserves are all empty, to buffer the acidic waste the body will pull out the alkaline minerals from the bones and connective tissue, leaving them more prone to injuries such as strains, fractures and other chronic overuse injuries.
The more energy the body spends on cleaning the acidic waste, digesting processed and overly cooked foods lacking digestive enzymes and nutrients, the less energy will be left for intense training and recovery.
The majority of vegetables and fruits are alkaline forming. It is recommended to eat about 70-80% of alkaline forming foods and 20-30% acid forming foods. Eating whole foods plant based nutrition conforms these numbers impeccably. Drinking plain water rather than acid forming sport drinks is crucial, but unfortunately even plain water often is too acidic because it lacks the alkalizing minerals and contains contaminants such as fluoride and chlorine. The recommended pH levels for water are 7.5-9.5. There are alkaline and ionized products on the market to improve hydration, but you can also make your own alkaline water with much less expense by adding a plain sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Always use aluminum-free baking soda. Depending on your water supply, you may need to use one half to one whole spoon of sodium bicarbonate per one quart of water to make it slightly alkaline. To make things more precise, buy pH sticks that will measure the pH levels of your water by immersing in it and experiment how much baking soda you need to add to make your water alkaline.
Many top athletes feel that the alkaline water enhances their endurance, power and recovery because their bodies buffer the metabolic waste more efficiently and thus are capable of better nutrient absorption and utilization.
The paradox of the athlete is that they eat large amounts of food and often pay attention to their protein intake. They are used to eating commercial protein bars, powders and shakes, which are highly acid forming, but to aid the recovery and to nourish the body, it is extremely important to consume highly alkalizing foods straightaway after the exercise. The good news and solution to this paradox is that eating whole foods plants and choosing the kinds with higher amounts of protein will deliver sufficient amounts of protein, covering effectively the athletic needs. Raw hemp protein, natural and unprocessed, contains about 50% protein and is less acid forming than other processed proteins such as whey or soy. Hemp has high amounts of chlorophyll that is responsible for the alkaline characteristic and for its green color. Another highly alkalizing protein source is chlorella, which contains almost 70% protein, spirulina with over 60% protein, or green peas with about 30% of protein. The good rule for the raw, whole and unprocessed plants is that the greener they are (more chlorophyll), the more alkalizing they are. Eating a lot of green leafy vegetables will support alkalinizing of your system even during the most intense training phases. Another good source of alkalizing protein are sprouted lentils, beans, peas, seeds or rice. Making a smoothie with green leafy vegetables and some hemp protein after your training session will deliver optimal nutrition for speedy recovery.
An athlete with overly acidic body will recover slower and experience fatigue. As with any stressor, the acidity will cause the cortisol levels to rise, which will impair the sleep and thus exacerbate the problem. A sleep deprived athlete with high cortisol levels produces lower amounts of the growth hormone, which causes a loss of muscle mass and an increase of the fat tissue. To correct this, the frustrated athlete starts training harder and without a proper recovery, the vicious circle has just started. Additionally, metabolic acidosis causes kidney stones and loss of bone mass. Because it affects the body at a cellular level, it increases the production of free radicals and decreases the production of cellular energy. Many viruses and bacteria thrive in an acidic body and increase the risk for many diseases. In contrast, in an alkaline body not even cancer can develop.
After a night of many metabolic processes in your body, a good way to start your day is to make your body alkaline by drinking a glass of water with lemon juice, aluminum-free baking soda and one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. Lemon juice, even though tasting sour, is highly alkalizing and blackstrap molasses is one of the nutritional powerhouses containing high amounts of the alkalizing minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese, all necessary for athletic performance.
Paying attention to the alkaline environment will not just improve your performance, but your health and well-being. Whole foods plant based nutrition makes maintaining the alkaline-acidic balance much easier. All of the animal products and dairy are acidic, and we don’t eat them anymore. Most of the processed foods are acidic and we don’t eat them anymore. All oils are acidic, but we don’t eat them anymore, or only very little. Most of the vegetables and fruits are alkaline and we eat a lot of them. It is evident that eating whole foods plant based diet makes life easier from many different aspects and it will definitely improve your tennis performance and overall fitness.