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Buffering To Stay Buffed

Posted by George L. Redmon PH.D.N.D.

The harder you exercise, the quicker you go acid. When muscle pH drops below 6.5, the acidity disrupts all sorts of links in the energy chain. For example, the enzyme phosphofructokinase is the rate limiting step in muscle use of glycogen. When pH drops below 6.5, it stops working altogether. Acidity also reduces muscle power directly by inhibiting the contractile action of muscle fibers. Another reason for muscle fatigue and damage that is exercise induced occurs simultaneously with the accumulation of acid and the accumulation of ammonia.
Dr. Michael Colgan, PhD. CNN
Optimum Sports Nutrition

When you review the comments above by Dr. Michael Colgan the well-known sports medicine nutritional physiologist, they imply that resistance training individuals are susceptible to acid driven catabolism. This anomaly is perplexing as the acid the body usually produces isn’t as destructive as consuming large amounts of protein and other acid producing foods. What is more puzzling is that acidic by-products generated by a process known as metabolic acidosis does some good things internally? For instance, during the process of combustion (metabolism) hydrogen particles facilitate the burning of fuel that generates the energy necessary to run your body. In controlled amounts, acids are necessary and vital to your survival. However, when they are produced without being neutralized, they become caustic, and in severe cases of metabolic acidosis the body is unable to sustain itself. A case in point, outside the range of pH that is compatible with life, proteins are denatured (created incorrectly) and enzymes are turned off and lose their ability to function. As you know, there are over 5000 enzymes throughout the body that serve as ignition switch’s that kick-start every metabolic and anabolic process that drives the body’s physiologically continuum. Equally, as cited by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., Director of the Program for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, all regulatory activities by the body, be it breathing, circulation, digestion, hormonal production, etc., all seek to balance ph levels, by discarding caustic metabolized acidic residues from cellular structures and body tissues.

Blood, Sweat, and Buffers

Because of the wide range of growth and recovery parameters that stabilized ph regulates, sports nutritionist have begun looking at this phenomenon to determine its impact on individuals engaged in resistance training. What they have found is a direct correlation between the body-builders diet (meat, fish, poultry, protein, eggs) and the physiological trauma body systems are subjected to do shift ph concentrations toward acidic, despite the positive anabolic responses these foods afford the bodybuilder. When you throw in an array of exercised induced inflammatory chemicals which contain hydrogen ions (H+), this shifts muscle and blood pH concentrations from that of being slightly alkaline to acidic which gives rise to the term The Resistance Training Paradox.

For example, Dr. Colgan in his book Optimum Sports Nutrition: Your Competitive Edge states that as you continue exercising, with the increased use of muscle glycogen for energy, this accelerates production of lactic acid and pyruvic acid and finally their conversion to a variety of hydrogen ions (H+). Moreover, when rising ammonia levels remain uncompromised, they become toxic to cells, rather than acting as buffering agents. This reduces the formation of glycogen (stored glucose in the liver and muscle tissue), and prevents the energy cycle from re-cycling. Lastly, consider the down-regulation of the internal muscle acid buffering agent bicarbonate phosphate immediately following workouts, paralleled by the inability to generate new muscle glycogen (fuel), due to inadequate stores of pyridoxal phosphate (a mix of phosphate and vitamin B6), which is also compromised.

Buffering ph to Stay Buffed

Forget the scientific jargon above but remember, except for the stomach, every other organ, artery, vein, tissue and muscle in the body operates better in an alkaline environment. How well you recover from a workout, how well all those internal anabolic processes and pathways work, as well as your organ and circulatory system, to all those nutrients and supplements you gulp down, to your body’s ability to sustain nutrient reserves, all depends on how well you help your body maintain this built-in buffering system. For these reasons, mounting research from a global perspective suggest that neutralizing metabolic acids is the real key to controlling the multitude of internal catabolic/anabolic cycles that lead to or discourage muscle growth and recovery. This notion stems from the fact that you can put all kind of supplements into your body, but unless you reduce acidity, your muscle and body systems are still subject to intense lingering states of catabolism. For instance, Dr. M. Ted Morter Jr. the author of Your Health Your Choice reminds us that metabolic acidosis (when acids aren’t neutralized) results from three possible causes:

1. Acid equivalents being added to the blood either as metabolic by products,(acid producing foods, cellular activity, negative thoughts).

2. Acid equivalents are being added to blood from some exogenous (outside) source, (drugs, stress, pesticides, pollutants, chemical additives).

3. The base alkaline nature of the body is being depleted, (mineral reserves).

Re-Thinking Recovery

The question that begins to emerge here is how do you build a bridge that intercedes to insure that these three necessary components, nutrient intake, workout routines and the potential of hydrogen/ph) connect to maintain the body’s internal anabolic equilibrium, versus the manifestation of an overload of catabolic chemicals? Fortunately sports medicine researchers now known that you can utilize a number of supplements and foods to counteract and stabilize this catabolic/anabolic/catabolic cycle of events. This is accomplished by shifting ones pre and post recovery efforts toward reducing system wide acidosis versus individual muscle recovery. The section that follows will outline some of those natural buffering compounds.

Some Key Buffering Agents

*Beta-Alanine- This amino acid is a modified version of the amino acid alanine and is converted into carnosine by the metabolic enzyme ATPG1. Carnosine is stored in muscle cells an increases the buffering of lactic acid in both slow (power) and fast (endurance) twitch muscles. In fact, in a recent study at the Department of Health and Exercise Science of the College of New Jersey participants given 4.8 g/daily of beta-alanine for 4 weeks significantly improved their muscle endurance and workload capacity. Also, in a related study appearing in the Journal of Amino Acids researchers reported that beta-alanine at dosages of 10, 20, and 40mg/kg of body-weight increased stores of carnosine by 42.1%, 64.2% and 65% respectively, increasing the buffering potential of the muscle exponentially.

Please Note: When beta-alanine is converted into carnosine in the muscle, data indicates that it is more effective at buffering acids than actually using the amino acid carnosine.

*Bicarbonate- Recently, investigators at the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science at the University of Western Australia looked at the consumption of bicarbonate (baking soda) to buffer muscle against acidosis during short-term workouts. In this study participants underwent an 8-week program of 3-times per week training of 6 to 12 two-minute cycle intervals. Half of the group consumed bicarbonate before each session and half a placebo. There were greater improvements in both the lactate threshold (26% vs. 15%) and time to fatigue (164% vs. 123%) after taking bicarbonate, compared with the placebo. Pre- or post-exercise ATP and creatine intracellular lactate concentrations and pH remained unchanged after training, which demonstrate no disruptions to the muscles recycling of energy.

In a related study researchers from the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Bath in England reported that subjects who ingested 0. 5g/kg of body weight of sodium bicarbonate over a period of six days, significantly improved anaerobic work load and power output. Interestingly, the subjects in this study continued to show improved work output two days after bicarbonate ingestion was stopped. However the most compelling aspect of this study was that chronic (frequent) ingestion as a means to improve high intensity work rather than the acute (crisis) ingestion of sodium bicarbonate had the greatest effect. Furthermore, sports nutritional researchers at the Laboratory of Applied Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil reported that the co-ingestion of beta-alanine (BA) and sodium bicarbonate (SB) for 4wks resulted in an 14 % improvement in high-intensity intermittent upper-body performance verse 5% improvement of BA and SB alone.

Frequent Daps Will Do You Better

Gastrointestinal distress can occur with bicarbonate loading. This may be reduced by ingesting the capsules or dissolvable powder with sufficient fluid to inhibit stomach distress. Alternatively, the “chronic” bicarbonate protocol as cited above by researchers at the University of Bath could be utilized in which supplementation is carried out in split doses over a number of days to increase plasma buffering capacity.

*Coral Calcium –Coral calcium also contains a multitude of alkaline minerals and increases blood alkalinity (pH) with a remarkable ability to buffer ph concentrations. Extracted from the coral reefs in Okinawa, Japan, coral calcium exists in a natural ionized state meaning it by-passes a multitude of metabolic processes and is biologically active and ready for immediate use by human tissue. While many forms of calcium are poorly absorbed, coral calcium absorption rate is nearly 100% according to the late Dr. Bruce Halstead, M.D., Founder and Director of the World Life Research Institute in Colton, California.

*D-aspartic acid- This amino acid is found in tissues within the hormonal and nervous systems. Well known for its impact on the synthesis of testosterone, aspartic acid also plays a key role in neutralizing and eradicating excess ammonia. As a point of reference here, aspartates increase the absorption and activity of mineral supplements the body chemically attaches them to. Studies indicate that this buffering action reduces fatigue, and improves athletic performance as well as enhancing healing of muscle tissue.

*Glutamine-Glutamine is concentrated in skeletal muscle making up to 60% of its free amino acid pool. It is widely used at post-workout to enhance muscle repair and recovery. Glutamine also has a major impact on muscle growth by modulating the acid/base axiom that buffers urinary ammonia. As cited by Dr. Tomas Welbourne, PhD., Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Louisiana State University, in the face of metabolic acidosis the kidneys paradoxically will produce a form of ammonia scientifically referred to as ammonium from glutamine, which the body uses to eliminate access acid. This nontoxic storage and transport form of ammonia formed from glutamine according to researchers at the Department of Pharmacology at St. Johns Medical College in India regulates nitrogen retention. It is now a well known fact that the more nitrogen verse its excretion, enhances your ability to generate muscle mass.

The Hormone Connection

When metabolic acidosis reigns, uncharacteristically anti-catabolic hormone secretions are also interrupted, resulting in increased cortisol production and reductions in thyroid and growth hormone release. As an astute body builder you know that this is a precursor to increased muscle wasting, fat storage, decreased protein synthesis, as well as reduced muscle strength and muscle recovery.

A Little Help from Some Friends

In addition to the above products, supplements like, chlorella, (one of the richest known sources of protein), chlorophyll, green barley and spirullina all help increase your alkaline reserves. Other viable options are minerals like manganese, magnesium, potassium and sodium, as well as colostrum and probiotics. Some researchers suggest, adding a little dap of sodium bicarbonate (Baking Soda) to pre-and post workout shakes. This researcher suggest 3x per week, gulping down a packet of mixed green foods as per manufactures instructions and incorporating a multi-based probiotic supplement into your daily supplemental routine to up-regulate your internal buffering capacity.

Foods That Buffer Acidic Foods

By making a few additions to the acidic body-builders diet can go a long way in improving its intended anabolic potential. As cited by Dr. Claudia Pillow, Ph.D., known as the food philosopher we use ph as a scientific tool to measure the link between good nutrition and neutralized ph. To stay in this neutralized state nutritionist recommend an 80% alkaline and 20% acid-producing diet, ironically the exact opposite of the body-builders diet. By increasing your intake of fresh leafy greens and vegetables, raw fruits, low glycemic ( food that aren’t converted into sugar rapidly)//high fiber carbohydrates (most fruits, vegetables, grains, whole wheat spaghetti) and good fats like those found in avocados and almonds will decrease the acid load of a meal. Some other alkaline foods you can consider adding to your dietary regimen are, apples, beans, broccoli, cabbage, lima beans, pineapples, potatoes (sweet and white), raisins, spinach, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes and watermelon.

Monitoring Your Own ph Concentrations

You can test ph levels at home using a ph test strip purchased from your local drug store. You simply follow the directions. Take a base reading by dropping your ph strip in a cup of your urine first thing in the morning. Upon rising your urine should be slightly acid (4 to 5) and by evening alkaline (7 to 8) on the ph scale. Within these limits, you’re functioning at a healthy level of homeostasis (body systems in a natural state of balance). Once you have balanced your pH, continue to test your pH once or twice per week, preferably Monday and Friday.


There are complex biochemical processes in your body working overtime to keep ph concentrations buffered as near to perfect as possible. Your body is alkaline by design but acidic by function. However, when food induced acidic overload occurs, the neutralization of critical metabolic and anabolic mechanisms increase. This puts the body’s cells in adaptation mode. The problem here, this sustained necessary adaptation reduces your body’s ability to sustain its anabolic potential.

Unfortunately, correcting disruptions to ph is the most misunderstood aspect of not only resistance training, but life extension. However, buffering to stay buffed is emerging as the new norm in maintaining the body’s anabolic equilibrium, just as nature intended, because:

Acid Should Run Batteries: Not Bodies!


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George L. Redmon, Ph.D. Short Bio

Dr. Redmon has been associated with the vitamin and health industry for over 25years, having served as The National Product and Education Director for one of the country’s largest retailers of nutritional supplements. He has been widely published in many major bodybuilding, fitness and alternative medicine publications. He is the author of Natural Born Fat Burners, Energy for Life and is a member of The National Academy of Sports Medicine and The International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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