Having a healthy pH is critical because without the correct pH blood level, the body’s enzymes can’t function, negatively impacting protein synthesis. In fact, studies show that low pH levels lead to diminished protein building, a major concern for anyone striving for a stronger physique. New research shows that recovery intensity and length between training sets play primary roles in determining pH regulation.
PH stands for the “potential of hydrogen” and it refers to the acid and alkaline level in the blood. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 14 (a score of 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acidic, more than 7 is alkaline). Ideally, strive for a level that is above 7, while much below 6.8 is not ideal. Increased lactate levels during training results in the accumulation of hydrogen in the blood, decreasing pH. This is one of the reasons that lactate clearance is so important for recovery. Meanwhile, chronically low pH can be an indication of errors in your training or nutrition program, or a more serious sign of overtraining.
A recent study compared the effect of three recovery protocols on blood pH levels. Participants performed four bouts of high-intensity cycling sprints for 90 seconds. Researchers found that the group that had a nine minute recovery at a lower intensity (27 percent of maximal oxygen uptake) maximized lactate removal and recovery of higher pH levels (to 7.35 pH). Plus, this group’s average pH increased by the end of the recovery period in contrast to the other two groups that had pH decreases by the end of recovery.
A short-recovery group that performed 4.5 minutes of active rest at 38 percent of max had the highest lactate concentrations and lowest post-training pH levels (the worst recovery at 7.20 pH). A medium- recovery group actively rested for six minutes at 33 percent of max and had final pH of 7.25.
Take note that increased lactate accumulation and decreased pH level didn’t result in decreased maximal power as seen with a four second all-out sprint test at the end of the study protocol. All three groups registered similar power despite the variable pH levels. Long recovery periods can be used for peak-intensity training, but short rest periods shouldn’t be removed from your program due to their significant effect in stimulating a hormone response (testosterone and growth hormone).
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Del Coso, J., Hamouti, N., Aguado-Jimenez, R., Mora-Rodriguez, R. Restoration of Blood pH Between Repeated Bouts of High-Intensity Exercise: Effects of Various Active-Recovery Protocols. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2010. 108, 523-532.