Potassium May Protect Against Acidosis, Muscle Loss

By: Sandra Prior

If you think your high protein diet, along with proper training is all you need for maximum muscle, think again. If you eat lots of animal products but not enough fruits and vegetables, your body may retain more acid than it excretes, a condition called metabolic acidosis.

As a bodybuilder, you want to avoid this condition like the plaque, because your body corrects acidosis by cannibalizing muscle protein to glutamine. That's why avoiding metabolic acidosis is a good strategy if you want to retain as much muscle as possible. Unfortunately, diets high in animal source foods and low in fruits and vegetables can cause a chronic, low grade acidosis even in healthy young men. In some people, even this low grade acidosis reduces muscle mass.

In one study of postmenopausal women, muscle loss caused by diet related acidosis was cured by administration of 6 - 12 grams per day of the antacid potassium bicarbonate because it leads to better calcium retention. This is very important for women. The subjects excreted an average 14 grams less urinary nitrogen over 18 days of potassium bicarbonate feeding than during control periods. If that trend were to continue, the women would gain about one pound of muscle every three months, instead of losing an average of almost half a pound of muscle per year.

In another study of fasting obese men, sodium bicarbonate was able to preserve muscle in an otherwise catabolic state by neutralizing excess body acid. Whether or not the lesser acidosis commonly seen in younger people eating the usual 'high acid' North American diet significantly affects muscle mass is an interesting topic.

Although data on bodybuilders are scarce, many bodybuilders suffer from chronic, low grade acidosis. Top pros are routinely reported to consume 400 - 500 grams of animal source protein per day. This would again cause rises in blood acid levels, leading to low grade acidosis.

The risk of chronic acidosis in bodybuilders is further increased by neglecting the dietary importance of fruits and vegetables. Produce has organic compounds (for example, citrate in citrus fruits, malate in apples), the metabolism of which yields acid neutralizing bicarbonate ions.

For all these reasons, bodybuilders - especially older ones eating high animal source diets with few fruits and vegetables probably have a higher than normal risk of low grade acidosis, which ironically could subtract from muscular gains.

Should bodybuilders add potassium bicarbonate to their list of supplements? Not yet. High doses of potassium in pill form can cause stomach irritation and even fatal complications. Neutralizing excess body acid by eating more fruits and vegetables is a much sounder approach as these foods may help preserve your health and help you grow if you eat lots of meat.

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