Sunday, January 08, 2006


Mary Shelly warned us. Well-intended or not, our bastardization of nature has its consequences. Just as a mad scientist might sew-together a hodgepodge of parts that were never meant to be, so too does our food industry combine all manner of ingredients that were never tested as "biologically compatible" by the wisdom of mother nature.
We may not be dealing with a grotesque monosyllabic monster in a literal sense, but our over-creative toying with foods has created monstrous problems. Obesity is epidemic, diabetes is on the rise, heart disease is our number one killer. Even those who exercise fairly regularly can find themselves struggling with body fat and related health issues. Yet bizarrely, rather than choosing wholesome foods or better ways to exercise, we're often taught portion-control as we live and eat in a world of processed, pre-packaged abominations.
Where does this leave a physique-conscious person like you? Without good dietary judgment, it could leave you a frustrated, metabolic and hormonal train wreck struggling to get off that muscle-blurring body fat in a world polluted by "frankenfoods."
Sometimes I wonder what my grandfather would say if he walked into a modern grocery store. Probably something like: "Where;s the FOOD?" He'd see aisle after isle of brightly colored cans, boxes and bags of tasty, processed, confectionary delights. But he'd be thinking: "Don't these people eat actual food? Where are the lean cuts of meat, the fruits and the vegetables? That's what we used to eat."
They're along the side or in the rear of the store, Grandpa. They're stuck over there because they're boring and nobody eats actual food anymore.
Perhaps saddest of all is that those of us who want to stay lean without being hungry all the time are offered "health foods" that are just as false and freaky as the junk foods. Let's take a look at foods that you may have in your own cupboard. Foods that leave your body wondering how the heck it's going to deal with them

Low-fat Peanut Butter
Brilliant. Let's take the healthy, mostly monounsaturated fat out and mix-in some corn syrup solids. Whether this appeases the leaders of the "fat witch hunt" or not, it just creates a nice fat-plus-sugar combo that we just don't need. And although Consumer Reports has stated that there is actually little trans-fat in most peanut butters, I still pass on the creamy run-of-the-mill stuff. I like the taste of real mashed-up peanuts in their own oil. It's bizarre, if you think about it, that we have to pay significantly more for "natural peanut butter." In the name of George Washington Carver! That's the REAL stuff! In fact, it's sometimes only offered in stores with a specialty foods section. Ugh.

Here another smart move, eh? Industry's efforts to find an alternative to butter (which admittedly isn't something that should be over-indulged-in) brought our society to margarine. Trans fatty acids replaced the saturated ones and voila vascular disease is more common than ever.
When I use margarine, it's an olive oil-based, trans fat-free type. Or, on occasion, I even use actual butter. Or how about just getting used to life without it? Learn to suck it up, you pampered child of the kindly West! You're just smearing fat on your carbs by remaining dependent on buttered toast and margarine-fried pancakes. Not good for a dieter. These foods aren't really that different from donuts; would you diet on those?
Listen, margarine at least in its original form was basically a mistake. Even if it is a modern-day staple. On holidays, I still find myself smiling at how far society has drifted into our fancy new hydrogenated world when my mom announces "I'm serving this with REAL butter!"

Fat-free hotdogs and bologna
Exactly what is this stuff, anyway? More demonization of fat as if our ancestors didn't evolve on the stuff has resulted in these freaky little processed thingamabobs. They're about as natural as TC starting a new column in Oprah magazine. Or Chris Shugart marching with Rosie O'Donnel against the NRA. Besides, they're typically just as riddled with nitrites as the fatty versions. And nitrites are (arguably) potently carcinogenic.
Admittedly, however, not everyone agrees on the carcinogenic potential of n-nitroso compounds.(1, 6) One study found significant relationships between hotdog consumption and brain cancer in kids especially those rugrats who didn't get a multivitamin.(11) Not good. I don't even want to think about how many hotdogs and bologna sandwiches I ate as a kid. Although an upcoming summer picnic can admittedly leave me buying a pack of low-fat dogs for indulgence ("real" hotdogs and bologna are similarly abominable), this stuff just has no place in a bodybuilder's usual diet.

Fat free ice cream
Hey, I know! Let's take all the fat out of something that was never meant to be eaten regularly so we can indulge in a little sugar rush/ insulin nightmare every night! Forget the fact that it's supposed to be a rare treat. Gobbling the stuff as an after dinner desert is even better! At this time our glucose tolerance is so bad, we might as well insert an intravenous drip of Karo syrup. But hey, it's fat free, right?
Of course, we can take the advice of certain nutrition authorities and self-enforce rigorous portion control frustrating ourselves on a nightly basis with a mere quarter cup! Why do this to yourself? Time once more to suck it up and lose the crutch.
Historically, Frankenfoods have been myopic mistakes that folks use as a crutch (unwittingly to their own detriment) rather than learning REAL, biologically correct dietary choices. It has yet to dawn on us that our efforts to make something "healthy" that was never meant to be anything but a rare treat backfires more often than not. By trying to fool Mother Nature, we have perennially created abominations that catch up with us in the long run. Why frustrate yourself continually when learning not to crave Frankenfoods (which admittedly takes months for most of us) is so much more logical? Then, if you want the REAL stuff on a special occasion, go eat a big bowl without guilt.

Diet Pop
Although perhaps less offensive, this useless Frankenfood is one of the most common. It rots your teeth with its acids, adds in a little extra sodium and caffeine (sometimes) and offers nothing by way of actual nutrients aside from the fluid itself.
Still (and sadly) it's a big improvement over the even more tooth-rotting,(2) occasionally sodium and caffeine providing, nutrition-less AND sugary soda pops. Did you know that pop is being called "liquid candy" by researchers?(13) Did you know that Pepsi has a pH of just 2.4?(14) Yikes! Whose teeth wouldn't demineralize? I personally don't want to swish around in my mouth and then actually swallow something that would eat a hole through my living room carpet.
Here's a tip: go drink some freaking water. If you need some flavoring to help increase consumption, find some spring water with a twist of lime or perhaps small amounts of sucralose flavoring. (I realize sucralose isn't natural either but after decades on aspartame, I'd rather ditch the aspartame for a while when I use sweeteners at all.)
If you're a diet pop junkie, try replacing just one diet soft drink daily with water containing a twist of lemon or lime; barely-sweetened green tea is a great choice too. And regarding your teeth, mineral waters are a research-supported "safe alternative to more erosive acidic beverages"(10) not to mention they actually give your body a fluid it recognizes. By sweetening drinks yourself, you can titrate the sweetness downward each month. Over time you'll actually lose your taste for ultra-sweet Frankenfoods.

Regular Hamburger
I've certainly admitted before that I love beef in a big bloody way. But as a society we've taken cattle off their natural diet (grass) and served them up copious quantities of corn. Can you imagine a free-ranging cow up on its hindquarters nibbling the tip of a stalk of corn? Me either. It's like the furniture commercial says: "that's just not natural!"
It's true that the term "corn-fed beef" does sound appetizing to a carnivore like me but "grass-fed beef" is far superior. The fatty acid composition is much better suited for hardcore bodybuilders and health conscious folks alike (see Good Fat and Where It's At). Although I am grateful that agriculture successfully maintains much of the world population, I am also grateful that I live in a culture that provides a biologically correct alternative.

That's right, bread. Don't let its prevalence fool you. White bread is perhaps more disturbing than the rest of the Frankenfoods. Just because you grew up on the stuff doesn't mean it's okay. There is actually literature describing Americans preference for white bread over healthier types.(3) There's also literature relating this spongy Frankenfood to obesity. Here's a scary quote:
It's been stripped of most of the grain's benefits and artificially fortified a bit in an effort to resuscitate it. It's so insulinogenic that it's actually used in glucose tolerance tests (e.g. in labs to spike blood sugar/ insulin as rapidly as possible). This kind of food doesn't exactly lend itself to fullness and satisfaction. In fact, did you know that 76% of foods offer more satiety than white bread?(4) This stuff needs to be saved only for post-workout periods.
And the "wheat" bread you see is usually just white bread dyed brown. It's like a fat guy with a tan. He's still a fat guy. Unless it specifically says "whole wheat" in the ingredients list, it's not. The fiber content and other nutrients are just like white bread. Besides, if you've been feeling good about consuming the usual brown stuff instead of white, ask yourself what the white stuff is made of wheat, duh!

Canned Vegetables
Since so few people eat vegetables at all, it would be remiss to chastise everyone for consuming some canned green beans or corn. Vegetables are a great way to increase fiber intake, reduce calorie load, take-in beneficial phytochemicals, and even lose body fat over time. But if you're trying to eat more veggies for health reasons, why bother with sodium-loaded, unattractive canned types? Most fresh or frozen vegetables aren't typically expensive and they're WAY more attractive than those grayish, canned "green" beans you've been choking down.
My guess is that you've had a hard time complying with recommendations to eat more vegetables; do you think those daily canned, gray, salty "Franken-beans" are helping? Have you ever thought: Oh yeah! Give me a second helping! Conversely, a purposeful attempt to buy a different bag (or three) of fresh or frozen veggies each week can go a long way toward complying with your diet and reverse your downward spiral into that hormonal-metabolic-physique trainwreck we mentioned earlier. You've just got to take a moment and think about preparing them in a quick, visually-appealing way.

Summary Table
Better Choice
Low-fat PB
Natural PB, mixed nuts
Hydrogenated corn oil margarine
Olive oil margarine, straight olive oil or nothing
Fat free processed meats
Fresh chicken breast - perhaps bought un-brined; salmon; 93% lean burger or grass-fed beef; round steak
Fat free ice cream
Low-fat or no-added-sugar ice cream, as a treat only
Diet pop
Water, tea
White or "wheat" bread
100% whole-wheat (or 100% whole-grain) bread or better still: baked potatoes with skin, oatmeal, oat bran hot cereal, wheat bran cereals (hot or All-Bran type) or other unrefined sources of carbohydrate (vegetables)
Processed, canned vegetables
One to three 16-oz. bags of frozen veggies weekly to be entirely consumed within seven days
Listen, eating real food doesn't have to be excruciating. Blandness and unattractive presentation of wholesome foods is a real (and huge) factor that drives people away. I know; I just finished several weeks of boiled potatoes, broccoli, and "dry" chicken breasts during contest prep. Not everybody can or wants to do that. Unfortunately, the ever-convenient, ever-tasty, ever-colorfully-packaged Frankenfoods are beckoning. They aren't just fun-foods, they masquerade as "healthy choices" that are little more than a crutch for the weak minded. Some persons "cave" to the temptation but some resist with a little effort at the grocery store and the stovetop. You have to ask yourself flatly and DAILY: what is my choice?
In my lectures, I often mention that athletic (physique) success is 90% nutrition and recovery, at least temporally. That is, even with a lengthy two-hour training session (which admittedly is a critical 8-9% of one's day), one is still left with 22 hours each day outside of the gym. That's over 90% my friends. Do you want to put in thought and effort only 10% of the time? What kind of health and progress do you expect to achieve living on Frankenfoods, even if you do train well?
Maybe this little tirade was a wake-up call; maybe we all just need to be reminded of some basic, obvious stuff at times. But for those struggling to rid themselves of body fat and improve health, these adjustments away from Frankenfoods could be a measurable help.
Don't make your diet a horror story.

References and Related Reading
1. Eichholzer, M. and Gutzwiller, F. Dietary nitrates, nitrites, and N-nitroso compounds and cancer risk: A review of the epidemiologic evidence. Nutr rev 1998; 56(4 Pt1): 95-105.
2. Grobler S., et al. In vitro demineralization of enamel by orange juice, apple juice, Pepsi Cola and Diet Pepsi Cola. Clin Prev Dent. 1990;12(5):5-9.
3. Hallfrisch J, and Behall K. Breath hydrogen and methane responses of men and women to breads made with white flour or whole wheat flours of different particle sizes. J Am Coll Nutr. 1999;18(4):296-302.
4. Holt, S. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90.
5. Knekt, P., et al. Risk of colorectal and other gastro-intestinal cancers after exposure to nitrate, nitrite and N-nitroso compounds: A follow-up study. Int J Cancer 1999; 80(6): 852-856.
6. McKnight, G., et al. Dietary nitrate in man: friend or foe? Br J Nutr 1999; 81(5): 349-358.
7. Mirvish, S., et al. N-nitroso compounds in the gastrointestinal tract of rats and in the feces of mice with induced colitis or fed hotdogs or beef. Cancinogenesis 2003; 24(3): 595-603.
8. Newby, P., et al. Dietary patterns and changes in body mass index and waist circumference in adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77(6):1417-25.
9. Oldreive, C. and Rice-Evans, C. The mechanisms for nitration and nitotyrosine formation in vitro and in vivo: impact of diet. Free Radic Res 2001; 35(3): 215-231.
10. Parry, J., et al. Investigation of mineral waters and soft drinks in relation to dental erosion. J Oral Rehabil 2001; 28(8): 766-772.
11. Sarasua, S. and Savitz, D., Cured and broiled meat consumption in relation to childhood cancer: Denver, Colorado (United States). Cancer Causes Control 1994; 5(2):141-148.
12. Schuurman, A., et al. Animal products, calcium and protein and prostate cancer risk in The Netherlands Cohort Study. Br J Cancer 1999; 80(7): 1107-1113.
13. Spruill, W. PDA establishes position statement on cola contracts in schools. Pa Dent J (Harrisb) 2000 Sep-Oct;67(5):29-32.
14. van der Horst G, et al. Chemical analysis of cool drinks and pure fruit juices—some clinical implications. S Afr Med J 1984;66(20):755-8.

Want more references? Go for a walk in the country, look around and imagine what was available to the humans that evolved before you, you know, the ones who adapted and set your very genetic code. How many cheese puffs and cola drinks were around then?

Corn-Fed Blubber

Barney's got a problem. He looks like a Wookie from Star Wars, but that's not the problem I'm talking about. He's fat. Blubbery even. When he walks around on his four legs, it sounds like two beefy men in their slippers shuffling towards the refrigerator in the hopes of finding some cold pizza.
He takes a few steps and then leans against the wall, a piece of furniture, or his master's legs to take a breather because moving all the bulk is hard on the ol' ticker.
As you might have guessed, Barney's a dog, a Bouvier, to be specific. Like all Bouviers, he's shaggy and large, but this particular Bouvier happens to be obese.
He belongs to a friend of mine and given that I like sticking my nose into other people's business especially when it comes to dietary matters I asked him, without too much disdain my voice, "What the fuck have you been feeding this dog?"
"No, no, it's good stuff!" he replied, more than a little defensively. "His dog food is made by his veterinarian and he says it's the best in the world."
I clean and jerked the giant bag of dogfood onto the counter and started to read the ingredients but I didn't need to go any further than the first item on the list: corn meal. This yahoo of a vet has been taking what's essentially cattle feed and repackaging it as dog food. Ranchers use similar stuff to fatten up steer before they're led to slaughter. Protein didn't show it's happy face on the list until the third ingredient.
Part of Barney's problem is that he just takes in too many calories, much the same as many of his fat human friends all around America. Since 1977, Americans are ingesting roughly 200 extra calories a day and it's clearly evident in the pasty white paunches, pockmarked jiggling thighs, and elephantine butts we see standing in line in front of us at the supermarket every day.
Just this past week, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine estimated that the proportion of "normal weight" people will drop from 42 percent today to just 5 percent in 2040. Furthermore, many researchers predict that today's children will be the first generation whose life expectancy is shorter than that of their parents.
One of the underlying causes of all this artery-clogging blubber came about through a fascinating blend of politics, history, economics, and plain old greed, as laid out by Michael Pollan in last week's New York Times Magazine (The (Agri)Cultural Contradictions of Obesity). And it all relates back to what was tops on the list of ingredients in Barney's dogfood. Yep, time to point the finger at the quintessential American food, corn.
Pollan writes that America's pretty much always produced a lot of corn. Back in the 1800's, the fertile land west of the Appalachians produced uncommonly high yields of the grain, which manifested itself in cheap corn prices and then cheap corn whiskey.
The evil brew became super cheap and super abundant and the average American began putting away half a pint of the stuff every day. American workers drank it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and employers were expected to supply the stuff for their workers during the workday. In fact, according to Pollan, the modern coffee break began as a late-morning whiskey break that was called "the elevenses."
Young America was soon wracked by alcoholism, violence, and all the other societal problems you'd associate with a nation of boozers.
We're currently experiencing another long-term boom in corn production and as a result, cheap corn prices. Consider that in 1930, America was producing 1,757,297,000 bushels a year, but in the year 2000 we produced 9,968,358,000 bushels. While most of it's not being distilled as it was back in the 19th century, it is being turned into products that, in the long run, are just as devastating as grain alcohol.
Pollan points out that a lot of this cheap corn, transformed into corn syrup, is what allowed Coca-Cola to take a seemingly lilliputian (by today's standards) 8-ounce Coke and transform it into a gargantuan 20-ounce serving. Similarly, this abundance of cheap corn syrup fuels society's ceaseless thirst for insulin-resistance and diabetes-producing soft drinks.
Likewise, cheap corn fed to cattle translates into cheap beef, thereby allowing McDonald's and other junk food terrorists to crank out quarter pound gut bombs and triple-decker artery cloggers which sometimes sell for less than a dollar. And consider the chicken McNugget, which is first made from corn-fed chicken, then glued together with corn-concocted glue, and finally coated with corn-derived stuff.
And then there's all the new snack foods that show up on grocery shelves almost weekly. All a result of cheap corn and manufacturers' zeal in putting it to use: Fritos, Doritos, Tostitos, this kind of puff, that kind of puff. If you stacked up all the different corn-based snacks, one on top of another, you could you could well, you could have a helluva' party for a whole bunch of fat people!
Most of the time, glutting the market with a product results in lowered prices, but what's supposed to then happen is that farmer's stop producing the stuff! Once a crop gets too cheap, it costs the farmer more to produce it than he gets back from the market.
To figure out why corn hasn't followed the classic supply and demand model, you have to go back to the seventies (which is exactly when we started elevating our average daily caloric intake).
In 1972, President Nixon signed a grain deal with the Soviet Union. That, and a streak of bad weather in the Midwest, caused a grain shortage which caused commodity prices to soar. Consumers got royally pissed, taking to the streets to protest. There was even a nationwide meat boycott to protest the high price of our precious hamburger! Nixon's solution was to instruct Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture, to fix the problem any way he could.
Butz' solution was, in short, farm subsidies. Farmers got paid by the government to produce as much grain as they could and dump it on the market regardless of price. Grain, mostly corn, flooded the market. Soon, American farmers were producing 500 additional calories per American per day, "each of us," Pollan writes, "heroically, managing to pack away about 200 of those extra calories a day. Presumably, the other 300 most of them in the form of surplus corn get dumped on overseas markets or turned into ethanol."
Add to that the fact that these extra calories are bad calories insulin raising, fat storing, diabetes causing calories and you've got yourself one significant health epidemic.
While Pollan made a great case in holding corn responsible for the fattening of America, he neglected to talk about corn's other dietary and health-related crimes. To examine these, we first have to look at one of the nation's top corn consumers, the cow.
Prior to World War II, just about all of American beef was grass-fed. In other words, cattle just grazed for the duration of their lives. Later, ranchers discovered that feeding cows grain, specifically corn, caused them to fatten up considerably faster. Not only that, but corn-fed cattle produce a meat that's marbled with fat and has a smooth, consistent flavor.
And we can't forget about the economics of corn feeding either. Remember, corn's dirt-cheap. Ranchers like dirt-cheap.
Unfortunately, there are problems associated with corn fed cattle. For one thing, cows are ruminants. That means they chew on grass, swallow it, and it more or less ferments in one section of their stomach before it gets absorbed. This system doesn't work so well with corn. The indigenous bovine bacteria don't work as efficiently with corn and it causes the cattle considerable health problems. To keep them from getting too sick which would prevent them from gaining weight they're fed antibiotics and hormones.
You'd find conflicting views on whether any of these drugs get passed on to the meat you eat, but at the very least, this stuff finds its ways into runoff and works its way into waterways and fields.
Nowadays, most cattle spend an average of 60 to 120 days in feedlots where they're fattened up before being slaughtered. Obviously, most of us know that heavily marbled beef isn't exactly part of a healthy diet but there are other things going on that you need to know about. Feeding cattle corn instead of grass drastically upsets the balance of essential fatty acids found in their meat.
The modern American diet is criminally short on Omega 3 fatty acids and these fatty acids, when consumed in optimal amounts, can potentially prevent coronary artery disease, hypertension, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and various inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Conversely, the American diet is high in Omega 6 fatty acids. While Omega 6 fatty acids are important to health, too, bad things happen when the ratio of these fatty acids get altered; namely, the aforementioned maladies.
Many scientists guess that man evolved eating an Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio of 1 to 1 from both meat and plant sources. An acceptable modern day ratio would be approximately 3 to 1. Trouble is, corn-fed cattle, in various studies, have exhibited ratios of 21 to 1, 11 to 1, and 20 to 1. Not good. Grass-fed cattle, on the other hand, exhibit ratios of 3 or 4 to 1.
Similarly, the meat from grass-fed cattle contains significantly higher amounts of CLA, which supposedly lowers the risk of cancer.
Maybe you don't eat a lot of beef, but there are plenty of Americans who do and they're likely the ones that don't exercise or watch their diet at all. In other words, they're the ones most likely to be harmed by this bad beef.
Luckily, some ranchers have gone back to "the old ways" and are raising their cattle strictly on grass. This type of beef, while not yet common, is starting to show up in butcher shop display cases. While the meat tastes a bit different than what Americans are used to, it's leaner, contains correct fatty acid ratios, higher amounts of Vitamin E, and little to no undesirable hormones or antibiotics.
It's almost unthinkable that a single type of grain could cause the obesity epidemic and possibly be at the root of so many health problems, but when you look at the human and canine Barneys all around us, along with the poor health of the country in general, it's hard to come up with a suspect that might be more culpable.

Covering Nutritional Bases

By John M Berardi

It's Out There But I'll Be Damned If I Can See It
While I do my best try to stay abreast of the latest nutrition and supplement research, once in a while I find myself totally ignorant to an important topic or sound body of literature. Take, for example, creatine-monohydrate supplementation. At this year's American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, I heard about this wonder supplement for the very first time. After asking several naïve questions, my embarrassed friends and colleagues informed me that creatine has been used for years and was perhaps the most popular ergogenic aid ever! In addition, I found out that at least 500 studies have been published, with over 70% of them demonstrating a positive effect. Go figure (scratching head)!
Alright, I'm just kidding about not knowing about creatine, but the fact remains; once in a while some important literature eludes my discriminating eye. You can't blame me, though. A search of Medline (, my favorite search engine for literature reviews, narrowed down to all abstracts published in the year 2003 with the keyword "nutrition," generates over 2,300 published papers. Now that's a lot of literature to sort through!
I See The Light
The latest topic that I've remained fairly ignorant about until very recently is the strong relationship between food selection and the acid-base balance of the body. As many of you know, I lead the campaign against the old adage: "a calorie is a calorie." In fact, I've written an entire article on the topic entitled Lean Eatin'.
While my crusade has focused on proper food selections to enhance the thermic effect of feeding as well as the hormonal response to different foodstuffs, I've recently acquired a whole new weapon for my assault. You see, different foods — based on their digestibility, micronutrient composition, protein content, and a number of other factors — can lead to marked fluctuations in the acid-base status of the body. Since many of you are probably wondering what this has got to do with looking good nekid, I encourage you to read on and find out how the acid-base balance of the body is critical to your health, your body composition, and even your exercise performance. Furthermore, find out how a few simple food substitutions and/or a few inexpensive supplement additions can correct your acid-base woes.
Before I get down to it however, I've got to give credit where credit is due. I can't assume full responsibility for stumbling across this fascinating line of research. It was actually a fellow researcher and nutrition colleague, Dr. Loren Cordain (of Paleo Diet fame) who pointed me in this direction during a recent "roundtable" we did together. So, if after you've read this article you feel compelled to thank someone for the great information, give him a shout at (and then you can feel free to praise me at
Acid-Base Nutrition Basics
When a food is ingested, digested, and absorbed, each component of that food will present itself to the kidneys as either an acid-forming compound or a base-forming one. And when the sum total of all the acid producing and the base producing micro and macronutrients is tabulated (at the end of a meal or at the end of a day), we're left with a calculated acid-base load. If the diet provides more acidic components, it will obviously manifest as a net-acid load on the body. And if it provides more basic components, it will obviously manifest as a net-base load on the body.
In the past, scientists have looked for various techniques to try to quantify whether a food is acid producing or base producing. One method that was commonly used was ash analysis. Using this technique, a food would be combusted and the ash would be analyzed to determine how much of the food was alkaline and how much was acid. When examining the micronutrients present in many foods we see that:
Acidic anions in food include chloride, phosphorous, sulfates, and other organic acids.
Basic/Alkaline cations in food include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
The ash analysis technique has its limitations, though. Since simple food/ash analysis doesn't take into account bioavailability of the nutrients in a given food, the acid-base balance of the body after consuming specific foods doesn't often match the acid or base-producing estimate generated from the ash analysis. In other words, the ash analysis ain't all that effective.
Recognizing this limitation, Remer and Manz developed food-rating values that they refer to as PRAL (potential renal acid load) and the NAE (net acid excretion).(1) The NAE can be determined directly by measuring the acid and the ammonium appearing in the urine and then subtracting out the measured urinary bicarbonate. This method yields a net acid excretion score based on direct measurements of the urine. This score, however, reflects total acid and base load of a mixed diet and not the acid or base load of the individual foods in the diet.
To more accurately predict the acid or base potential of a given food, another technique is needed. Unlike the aforementioned technique, the NAE can be determined indirectly by adding up all the urinary acidic anions from the above method and subtracting out the basic/alkaline cations described above. Since the urinary anion and cation excretion is directly related to food intake, it's possible to approximate net acid or base load from the composition of the food. This net acid or base load is called the PRAL (potential renal acid load).
Therefore, in taking into account the composition of the food, the bioavailability of the different micro and macronutrients (especially protein) of the food, the sulfur content of the food, and the obligatory diet-independent organic acid losses, it's then possible to estimate a physiologically meaningful index of the acid or base load based on the food consumed (PRAL).
For those of you who don't really care about PRALs and NAEs, here's the one sentence summary of what I'm talking about. In layman's terms, researchers can now analyze a food and based on its components, determine what the true acid or base load on the body will be. If you're still wondering why this is important, read on.
Why Acid Is Bad
Every cell of the body functions optimally within a certain pH range (pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the body). In different cells, this optimal range is different, however, the net pH of the body has to remain tightly regulated. One common problem with most industrialized societies is that our diets produce what's called a "low grade chronic metabolic acidosis." In other words, the PRAL of our diets is high and this means that we're chronically in a state of high acidity. While there are a number of disease states that induce severe metabolic acidosis, we're talking a sub-clinical rise in acidity here. Therefore, your doc probably won't notice the problem. But that doesn't mean that you're in the clear. Your cells will recognize the problem.
So what's wrong with this low-grade chronic metabolic acidosis? Well, since the body must, at all costs, operate at a stable pH, any dietary acid load has to be neutralized by one of a number of homeostatic base-producing mechanisms. So, although the pH of the body is maintained and your doctor visits turn out fine, many cells of the body will suffer. Here are some of the most severe consequences of your body's attempt to maintain a constant pH in the face of an acidic environment:
Hypercalciuria (high concentrations of calcium in the urine). Since calcium is a strong base and bone contains the body's largest calcium store, metabolic acidosis causes a release in calcium from bone. As a result, osteoclastic (bone degrading) activity increases and osteoblastic (bone building) activity decreases. The net result of these changes is that bone is lost in order to neutralize the acidic environment of the body. The calcium that was stored in the bone is then lost in the urine along with the acid it was mobilized to neutralize. This creates a negative calcium balance (more calcium is lost from the body than is consumed) and bones get weak. (2,3,4,6)
Negative nitrogen balance (high concentrations of nitrogen in urine). Glutamine is responsible for binding hydrogen ions to form ammonium. Since hydrogen ions are acidic, glutamine acts much like calcium to neutralize the body's acidosis. Since skeletal muscle contains the body's largest glutamine store, metabolic acidosis causes muscle breakdown to liberate glutamine from the muscle. The amino acids from this muscle breakdown are then excreted, causing a net loss of muscle protein. (2,7)
In addition to bone and muscle loss, other consequences of acidosis include:
Decreased IGF1 activity (4)
GH resistance (4)
Mild hypothyroidism (4)
Hypercortisolemia (4,5)
Interestingly, low-grade metabolic acidosis seems to worsen with age. Many have speculated that this is due to an age-related decline in kidney function (and acid excretion). Of course, osteoporosis and muscle wasting are unfortunate consequences of aging. While it's too early to tell, perhaps some of the bone and muscle loss evident as individuals get older is a result of diet-induced acidosis. This means that employing a few simple acid-base strategies may help slow osteoporosis and sarcopoenia.
What's Wrong With Your Diet?
Recently, Sebastian and colleagues compared the pre-agricultural diet of our ancestors to the modern North American diet.(8) After evaluating the two diets for what they call NEAP (net endogenous acid production) — essentially the same measure as the PRAL above — a -88mEq/day acid load characterized the pre-agricultural diet while the modern diet was characterized by a +48mEq/day acid load. What this means is that our ancestors evolved eating a diet that was very alkaline/basic and therefore very low acid. However, modern people are eating a diet that is high in acid, and therefore very different from what we evolved to eat. As a result, our modern diet is responsible for what the authors have called a "life-long, low grade pathogenically significant systemic acidosis."
How have we gotten so far off track? Well, the shift from net base producing foods to net acid producing foods comes mostly as a result of displacing the high bicarbonate-yielding plants and fruits in the diet with high acid grains. In addition, most of our modern energy dense, nutrient poor selections are also acid forming. Finally, high protein animal foods tend to be acid producing as well.
If you're now wondering how your diet stacks up, check out the table I've provided below. This table includes a listing of 114 commonly consumed foods and their PRAL scores. A negative PRAL score indicates the food is basic/alkaline. A positive PRAL score indicates the food is acidic. A score of 0 indicates the food is neutral.
Food Group and Food
PRAL Score
Meat and Meat Products Average
Lean BeefChickenCanned, Corned BeefFrankfurtersLiver SausageLunch MeatLean PorkRump SteakSalamiTurkey MeatVeal Fillet
Fish Average
Cod FilletHaddockHerringTrout
Milk, Dairy, and Eggs
Milk and non-cheese averageLow protein cheese averageHigh protein cheese average
ButtermilkLow Fat CheddarGouda CheeseCottage CheeseSour CreamWhole EggEgg WhiteEgg YolkHard CheeseIce CreamWhole milkWhole Milk PasteurizedParmesan CheeseProcessed CheeseWhole Milk Yogurt w/FruitWhole Milk Yogurt Plain
Sugar and Sweets Average
Milk ChocolatesHoneyCakeMarmaladeWhite Sugar
Vegetables Average
AsparagusBroccoliCarrotsCauliflowerCeleryChicoryCucumberEggplantLeeksLettuceMushroomsOnionsPeppersPotatoesRadishesSpinachTomato JuiceTomatoesZucchini
Fruits, Nuts, and Juices Average
Apple JuiceApplesApricotsBananasBlack CurrantsCherriesGrape JuiceHazelnutsKiwi FruitLemon JuiceOrange JuiceOrangesPeachesPeanutsPearsPineappleRaisinsStrawberriesWalnutsWatermelon
Grain Products
Bread averageFlour averageNoodles average
Mixed Grain Rye BreadRye BreadMixed Grain Wheat BreadWheat BreadWhite BreadCornflakesRye CrackersEgg NoodlesOatsBrown RiceWhite RiceRye FlourWhite SpaghettiWhole Grain SpaghettiWheat Flour
Legumes Average
Green BeansLentilsPeas
Fats and Oils Average
ButterMargarineOlive OilSunflower Oil
Alkali rich averageAlkali poor average
Draft BeerPale BeerStout BeerCoca-ColaCocoaCoffeeMineral WaterRed WineTeaWhite Wine

*This table is adapted from the Remer and Manz study discussed above (1) and each PRAL score is based on a 100g portion of food.
I'm Here To Straighten Out Your Acids
After perusing this list it should be apparent that both the typical modern diet as well as the typical athletic diet is suspect. After all, even a high protein diet rich in clean, whole grain carbs will produce a net acid load. Since a neutralization of the Western diet without a change in energy intake or macronutrient composition has been shown to improve bone health, to shift nitrogen balance from negative to positive, to reduce blood cortisol concentrations, to increase thyroid hormone production, and to reverse the GH resistance discussed above, it's important that athletes take the appropriate steps to shift their diets away from that low grade chronic metabolic acidosis we discussed earlier. Here are some steps for accomplishing this goal:
Use the chart above to calculate a PRAL score for each meal. To do this, you simply record the amount (in grams) of each food you eat in a meal. Then, multiply the PRAL score listed by your food amount. For example, if you've eaten 250g of lean meat (8 oz or about 1/2 lb), your PRAL score for the meat will be 7.8 (score for 100g) multiplied by 2.5 (for the 250g serving), or 19.5. If you've also eaten 250g of potato (8 oz or 1/2lb), your PRAL score for the potato is -4 (score for 100g) multiplied by 2.5 (for the 250g serving) or -10. In addition, if you've eaten 100g of spinach, the PRAL score for the spinach is -14. If you tally up the total score of this meal, the net PRAL is 19.5 (meat), -10 (potato), -14 (spinach), or -4.5. This means a meal containing 8 oz of lean meat, 8 oz of potato, and 3.5 oz of spinach produces a PRAL of -4.5. In other words, the meal produces a net alkalinity. That's what we're looking for.
After calculating the base or acid potential of the meal, add more vegetables regardless of the final tally. Everyone can always benefit from more vegetables in the diet. Many bone specialists are now recognizing that the most effective way to improve bone health is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables.(3)
If you're eating a big meal that's going to be a net acid producer and don't want to add more basic foods, consider adding a small amount of glutamine to this meal. Exogenous glutamine supplementation has been shown to neutralize acidosis.(7)
A cheaper alternative to glutamine supplementation is either sodium or potassium bicarbonate supplementation. You can add sodium bicarbonate (in the form of baking soda) to your beverages including your protein shakes, which probably are a bit on the acidic side (see milk above). A small 2-5g dose of baking soda would be sufficient to neutralize the shake. An alternative to baking soda is alka-seltzer.
Adding sodium to foods can increase the base potential and reduce the acidity of the meal.
A Few Additional Protein Notes
Many doctors, dietitians, and sports nutritionists have come down on animal protein for several reasons including its effect on renal acid load. While it's true that animal protein (especially animal flesh) does produce a high PRAL, I find it interesting that the same "experts" espouse high grain diets. As you can see from the charts above, whole grains are also very acid forming.
Another interesting fact is that while a high protein diet is acid forming, the high protein diet also seems to counteract some of its own acid loading potential.(9) In other words, while protein produces an acid load, it also increases the body's capacity for excreting those acids. None of the other acid producing foods are as effective as protein in doing so. Besides, just like with the other acid-forming foods, all you have to do is consume enough basic foods and supplements to neutralize the acidity.Conclusions
Just because very few individuals in the sports-nutrition world are talking about acid-base balance doesn't mean that it's not important. Employing a few simple strategies to neutralize your high-acid diet may mean the difference between chronic low-grade acidosis — and the associated muscle wasting, bone loss, and altered hormonal profile — and a healthy, alkaline diet.
1) Remer and Manz, J. Am Diet Assoc. 95: 791-797, 1995.2) Frassetto et al, J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 82: 254-259, 1997.3) New, Proc Nutr Soc. 61(2): 151-164, 2002.4) Wiederkehr et al, Swiss Med Wkly. 10:127-132, 2001.5) Maurer et al, Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 284(1): F32-40, 2003.6) Buclin et al, Osteoporos Int. 12: 493-499, 2001.7) Welbourne, et al. JPEN. 18(3): 243-7, 1994.8) Sebastian et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 76(6): 1308-1316, 2002.9) Remer et al, Eur J Nut. 40(5): 214-20, 2001.

Water Intake

By John M Berardi

Adequate water is an important part of any athletic regimen but it is often neglected. How much water is needed is a controversial topic in the popular literature. Let's look to the science.
When looking at the research, there is a recent paper in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association (Volume 99, number 2, pages 200-206, 1999) that discusses water needs. In this paper, the author states that:
" To be well hydrated, the average sedentary adult man must consume at least 2,900 mL (12 c) fluid per day, and the average sedentary adult woman at least 2,200 mL (9 c) fluid per day, in the form of noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic beverages, soups, and foods. Solid foods contribute approximately 1,000 mL (4 c) water, with an additional 250 mL (1 c) coming from the water of oxidation."
The authors also state that "Dehydration of as little as 2% loss of body weight results in impaired physiological and performance responses."
So it appears that in sedentary individuals the equivalent of about 12 cups of water per day are necessary (4 cups come from food, 1 cup from metabolism, and 7 cups from fluid intake). In fact, a few correlational studies have shown that individuals consuming this amount of water per day are less likely to suffer from:
• urinary stone disease
• breast cancer
• colon cancer
• urinary tract cancer
• childhood and adolescent obesity
• mitral valve prolapse
• salivary gland disorders
So for sedentary individuals, you should shoot for about 7 cups of water per day if consuming near your calorie needs.
As far as athletes, there is good research showing that dehydration seriously impairs mood, intensity, strength, and endurance. Although there is very little research looking at how much fluid is needed to prevent dehydration in athletes, the Guyton Textbook of Medical Physiology the following table showing the amount of water lost in the average 70kg athlete (154lb) in different exercise and non-exercise conditions:
Normal Weather -
No exercise
(68° F) Warm Weather -
No exercise
(85° F) Exercise in Warm
Weather (85° F)
Insensible Sweat Loss
- Skin 350 mL 350 mL 350 mL
- Respiratory Tract 250 mL 350 mL 650 mL
Urine 1400 mL 1200 mL 500 mL
Feces 100 mL 100 mL 100 mL
Sweat 100 mL 1400 mL 5000 mL
Total 2,300 mL (2.3L) 3,300 mL (3.3L) 6,600 mL (6.6L)

From this table it appears that although athletes will be getting more water from foods and will be making more "metabolic water" due to cellular metabolism, this probably is not enough water to support the higher levels of muscle mass, metabolic activity, and the higher sweating rates of more active people. Especially in warm weather climates. So more water may be necessary.
Since the first study I mentioned study proposed the idea that about 3L (12 cups) of water per day might be necessary for adequate hydration in sedentary individuals and that about 1.25L (5 cups) come from food and as a byproduct of metabolism, that means that 1.75L (7 cups) should be consumed per day.
Assuming that athletes are eating more food than the average person eats and that they have a higher metabolic rate, they might be getting about 2L (8 cups) per day from food and metabolism. Their water needs on training days, however are probably higher so drinking 2 additional liters (8 cups) of water per day might get the job done if they don't live in warm weather climates. If living in warm weather climates, drinking an additional 4 liters (16 cups) might be necessary on training days. Base your water intake on your climate, sweat rates, and your activity levels. Remember the above examples are based on a 70kg athlete. If you're bigger, you may need more.
Bottom line: on non-training days, it appears that ½ gallon of additional water is adequate in both warm and "normal" climates. On training days, however, you may require a gallon or more water per day to stay adequately hydrated.