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Diet composition can affect systemic pH and acid-base regulation, which may in turn influence exercise performance. An acidic environment in the muscle impairs performance and contributes to fatigue; therefore, current trends in sports nutrition place importance on maximizing the alkalinity of the body with ergogenic aids and dietary strategies. This review examines the evidence on the effects of dietary manipulations on acid load and exercise performance. Ten studies that investigated the effect of high versus low dietary acid loads on athletic performance generally identified that low dietary acid loads increased plasma pH, but did not consistently improve exercise performance at maximal or submaximal exercise intensities. In addition, the few studies conducted have several limitations including lack of female subjects and use of exercise tests exclusive to cycling or treadmill running. Although the research does not strongly support a performance benefit from low dietary acid loads, a more alkaline dietary pattern may be beneficial for overall health, as dietary induced acidosis has been associated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease and bone disease. The review includes dietary recommendations for athletes to reduce dietary acid load while still meeting sports nutrition recommendations.
The authors are with the Dept. of Nutrition and Foods, School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX.