Ironman Triathlon Performance and pH Balance

Ironman Triathlon Performance and pH Balance

The extreme mental and physical stresses of Ironman Triathlon training and competition give rise to a body condition of over-acidity, which, if left unhandled, weakens all body systems. The condition is, unfortunately, very common among most athletes today.

We spoke about this subject with Ben Greenfield, a top fitness, triathlon, nutrition and metabolism expert, (as well as Ironman World Championship finisher, nutrition and metabolism expert and author) who was named 2008 Personal Trainer of the Year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. As a triathlon coach and competitor, Greenfield competes at Ironman and Half-Ironman World Championships, is a USAT top-ranked age-grouper triathlete and competes in 15-20 triathlons each year, both nationally and internationally.

“In training and in a 10-hour Ironman competition, your body is depleted of an excessive amount of calories and nutrients and becomes overly acidic,” Greenfield told us. “An over-acidic body creates an internal environment predisposed to disease, as compared to a pH-balanced body that allows normal physiological function necessary for the body to resist disease.

“An over-acidic body reduces the amount of oxygen entering the cells, which accelerates free-radical damage and speeds lactic acid buildup, joint pain and muscle ache. An over-acidic body leaches vital acidic-buffering minerals such as magnesium and calcium from bones. These minerals are forced to be redeployed into the blood in an attempt to balance the pH of the body by increasing alkalinity. The depletion of these minerals affects a myriad of body functions that are vital to athletes, including energy, endurance and recovery.”

Why should athletes care about pH levels?

Since most of the body is water-based (50–60 percent), the pH level has important effects on all body chemistry, health and disease. All regulatory systems (including breathing, circulation, digestion and hormone production) work to balance pH, by removing caustic metabolized acid residues from body tissues without damaging living cells. If the body’s pH moves too far to the acid side or too far to the alkaline side, cells become poisoned by their own toxic waste and die.

Greenfield adds: “Every living organism on the planet relies upon a pH-balanced state, which is why fish die in acidic water and plants do not grow properly in excessively acidic soil. Athletes and all people are no different—they rely upon a net alkaline state to function properly.”

According to Greenfield, “Inconveniently, breathing, digesting and energy production all create an acidic state, as do low electrolyte intake, sweating, physical stress and the intake of animal proteins, starches, sugar, coffee, tea, soda, juice, milk and energy drinks. So a balanced pH can be very challenging for an Ironman triathlete, or any athlete, for that matter.

“The limitation of acidic foods and the increase of alkaline foods can help, but unfortunately, due to modern agricultural practices and the use of herbicides, pesticides and commercial fertilizers, most of our foods have been depleted of the minerals necessary for buffering an acidic state.”

Calcium–magnesium balance

“The most important of these acid-neutralizing minerals are calcium and magnesium. Although calcium is generally considered the most important mineral, children and adults in many different countries and food cultures survive on diets significantly lower in calcium than the average American’s but suffer from fewer fractures and lower osteoporosis incidence. Primarily, this phenomenon is related to an improper balance of calcium and magnesium in the typical Western diet—a high calcium intake with low magnesium consumption.

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“As one of the most critical elements in the human body and the single most important mineral in sports nutrition, magnesium has taken a back seat to an emphasis on dairy consumption and calcium supplementation. Not only is magnesium crucial to calcium absorption and utilization, but sleep levels, hydration, metabolic efficiency, oxygen consumption, muscle function and heart rate are all critically dependent on adequate magnesium levels.

“About 68 percent of Americans do not consume the recommended daily intake of magnesium, and for an athlete who loses magnesium through sweating at a rate much faster than the average person, this important mineral can be severely depleted. That’s why I recommend a liquid calcium-magnesium sports product from Natural Vitality called Osteo Calm®. As a liquid product, it is easily absorbed, has the correct proportion of magnesium to calcium and includes vitamin D, which is critical to athletic performance. For those women athletes who are especially concerned with bone density and osteoporosis, I highly recommend it and have introduced it to my wife, who is a runner.

“You can’t just eat your way to endurance fitness; that is why I now advise all of my coached athletes, including my wife, to supplement their diets with nutritional magnesium and anti-oxidant products.

“One of the other Natural Vitality sports products I use is Natural Calm Bath, which is a magnesium bath salt formula. This product relaxes my muscles and is a natural detoxifier, eliminating toxins out of my body that have accumulated with intense training and competition.

“I also use the liquid NutraRev® product in the afternoon for a natural energy boost. This is a great anti-oxidant that further helps me slow down the oxidation process during my workouts and competition.

“Doing an Ironman is like racing your car at 5,000+ rpms all day long. From the first few minutes of the swim portion, which is at high rev and is utter chaos as hundreds of athletes hit the water all at once, you are finding your balance and rhythm. This sets the stage for the bike section, which is purely a management section—managing your body, fuel, nutrition, machine all at high rev. And finally the run, which is, any way you look at it, a high-rev chase—either you are chasing or you are being chased. To make this race work, your body needs to be dialed in: physically, nutritionally and mentally. One of the reasons I am able to train less than most athletes and get better results is quality supplementation—it’s like putting premium gas into your fuel tank.

“Just to finish an Ironman is a huge accomplishment. You may not avoid serious pain completely, but your rewards will be utter elation, complete satisfaction and a lifetime of glory.

“I plan to be at the 2010 Kona, Hawaii, Ironman World Championship. Hope to see you there.”

Visit Ben Greenfield’s site at