Alkali Joe

What we eat after long runs can make us sick or keep us well.

Toward the end of a long run, I ran a bit quicker than usual, a tad above 80% of MHR. It felt right, but I knew I was “pressing my edges,” pushing the body to a point where, given the cool weather, the sniffles were just a hand-span away.

I like to replenish carbs and protein immediately after my long runs, so I jumped in the car and headed for the Sports Basement store by the Bay, where they carry Hammer Nutrition Recoverite. I like to mix the Recoverite in Horizon organic vanilla milk; it’s been an effective recovery drink for me.

It was a satisfying run. By listening to my body’s feedback, I was able to stay on a pace that felt exactly right. But afterward, I let my attention wander, and I ignored an intuitive signal that was trying to tell me to avoid the sweetened milk. On the drive home, my nose began to run, and soon I realized I had full-blown sinusitis.

What should I have done? For starters, I could have paid more attention to the inner voice that was steering me away from the milk. And if I had listened carefully, I’m sure I’d have been inspired to take measures to boost my immune system — as I’ll explain.

Years ago, my friend Carlton Schreiner, who’s a nutritionist, explained the importance of keeping the body in a slightly alkaline state.

He told me the immune system thrives in a slightly alkaline environment, with a blood pH of 7.35-7.45. He said that the “-itis” diseases — bronchitis, sinusitis, etc. — flourish when the blood pH is acidic.

Carlton pointed out that long runs make the body acidic. He recommended that I take buffered vitamin C powder to alkalinize my body immediately after long runs and speedwork.

I found it remarkably effective. At the first suggestion of sniffles after a run, I would take the buffered vitamin C powder, and the symptoms would vanish.

At the end of a 2½-hour long run this weekend, I was feeling a bit sandbagged, with sore and road-weary legs. I attributed it to having helped a friend move, two days earlier. After the run, I drank a Recoverite smoothie with pineapple and buttermilk. Normally, after resting for an hour or so, I would drink a smaller Recoverite smoothie and nap for 20 minutes, then wake up feeling refreshed. But this time, I continued to feel bone-weary and thoroughly depleted.

I opened the fridge and let my gaze rest on various foods, trying to sense my body’s reaction. Eggs? No! Another smoothie? Yuck! A salad? Heavens, no! Beans? Are you kidding?!

As I continued to quiz my body, the answer suddenly came: Water!

“Yes!” I thought — “When I’m dehydrated, the symptoms are what I’m experiencing now — fatigue, nausea, and the wan energy of a shriveled old man.” I guzzled water, and within 20 minutes my energy returned and I felt fine.

Amazing, how easily we overlook the simplest things.

Years ago, I routinely had fierce headaches after long runs, especially during hot weather. But when I began guzzling fluids and faithfully taking electrolytes, the headaches disappeared and never returned.

This weekend, the weather was in the high 60s. I drank two 28-oz bottles of water during the run, but it evidently wasn’t enough.

Like any runner, I’ve gathered a personal stash of tips for dealing with various ailments and injuries. But the most useful skill I’ve acquired is learning to get quiet and let my body tell me what it needs.

When my spiritual teacher was a young disciple, his teacher asked him, “What is God?”

My teacher replied, “God is omnipresent and all-knowing.”

The teacher laughed. “Aha — a budding pantheist! No — God is infinite intelligence and energy.”

I find the “infinite intelligence” has answers for every problem, and that it responds when I ask sincerely and listen with care.

Few runners are aware of the importance of alkalinity. To recover quickly and avoid getting sick after hard runs, it’s a good idea to eat primarily alkaline-forming foods. That means few grains (except millet, which is alkaline-forming), and little or no meat or fish, which are highly acidifying. Dairy products are okay, since they’re close to neutral (goat milk is the more alkaline-forming than cow’s milk). In fact, milk is an excellent recovery drink; and you can blend it with alkaline-forming fruit such as dates, banana, and pineapple. Here’s a list of acid- and alkaline-forming foods.

In Lore of Running, Tim Noakes looks at research on the performance-enhancing effects of taking sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or sodium citrate, both powerful alkalinizing agents, before and during exercise. (See Lore, 4th ed., pp. 726-8.)

In summary, bicarbonate ingestion before high-intensity exercise of short duration produces an ergogenic effect of variable degree in about 50% of the studies that have been reported. This suggests that the response is likely to be highly individual, with some subjects, say 20%, showing a marked effect; a larger number, perhaps 40%, showing a much smaller effect; and the remaining 40% showing no effect at all. Paradoxically, of the three studies of more prolonged exercise (30 to 60 minutes) at a lower intensity, two have shown an ergogenic effect of between 3% and 5%, whereas the third showed no discernible effect (Schabort et al. 2000).

Noakes observes, “Soda loading clearly contravenes the doping regulations controlling athletics, and bicarbonate and citrate are likely to be listed as banned agents in the near future.”

There’s nothing to prevent athletes from taking baking soda after exercise, however; but the practice should be approached with caution, since a too-alkaline metabolic environment is very dangerous, and can result in death. Hyperalkalosis is much harder to correct in the emergency room than hyperacidosis. So it’s probably a good idea to stick to buffered vitamin C.

Most buffered C powder is slightly acid-forming, typically, pH 6.1-6.8 (above 7.0 is alkaline), but NutriBiotic Calcium Ascorbate (pH 7.3) and Sodium Ascorbate (pH 7.1) are alkaline-forming. They’re reasonably priced (e.g., $17.50 locally in health food stores, as low as $13.25 online) and extremely concentrated (1 tsp contains 4490 mg vitamin C; 45 tsp per 8-oz container). Try taking ¼ to ½ tsp after long runs; or try taking no more than ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.

It’s important to know that if you come down with one of the -itis diseases, consuming milk products or citrus (oranges, lemons, etc.) is sure to keep you sick longer, even though these foods are alkaline-forming or close to neutral. If you crave sour fruit when you’re ill, better to choose pineapple. An occasional egg, though eggs are highly acidifying, is probably a better choice than dairy when you’re sick. (My sources for this are personal experience, my spiritual teacher’s advice, and anecdotal reports of friends.)

Finally, it’s important to remember that the body needs some acid-forming foods. The healthiest balance, per most recommendations, is a diet that’s 70% to 80% alkaline-forming (whether by weight or volume is unclear — the optimal figure is probably individual).

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