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How Measuring My Urine pH Got Me to Love Working Out Again
This is a brief chapter out of the middle of an ongoing story. I'm not ready to tell the whole story yet, but I'm ready to write a first draft of this chapter and share it with you.
I'm still in the midst of this experiment, so what I have here isn't a finished protocol or a set of firm recommendations. Nevertheless, this has been so game-changing for me that I have to share it and I know doing so will help some of you.
Background: The Mold and Barium Crisis
Earlier this year, I found myself in the midst of a health crisis that I have so far traced to toxic levels of barium and to mold that was growing inside the damaged walls and floorboards of my old apartment. One of the complications of this was a voracious fungal infection. I had to stop working out because working out did two things that made everything worse: 1) it taxed my energy supply when I was using every last bit of my energy to fight off the infection, and 2) it created sweat on the surface of my skin that fueled the fungal growth.
I had stopped working out for several months during this time and lost a lot of muscle mass.
Moving and Starting to Work out Again
I moved into a new apartment and took several other major measures to gain my health back that are all parts of other chapters in the story, to be told later.
After I moved, I started working out again to try to mitigate the loss of muscle mass in hopes of putting some of it back on as I got healthier.
My goal was to obtain maximal anabolic stimulus with minimal metabolic stress. Metabolic stress on the muscle is part of the anabolic stimulus you get from working out and any type of workout causes some level of metabolic stress. So, I was carefully balancing two opposing priorities in hopes of finding a sweet spot that would allow the greatest retention of muscle mass without interfering with my healing.
As I covered in lesson 17 of my course on energy metabolism, creatine phosphate levels prevent ATP levels from falling during intense exercise, but once you reach fatigue, they take at least 3-4 minutes to get back up. So, I programmed a full-body workout based on three sets of ten reps for the exercises, with 3-4 minutes rest between each set, and I rested for five days between each workout.
Even though most of my workout was rest, it was stressful enough that it would require several hours of laying down and doing nothing afterward and tended to set back the healing of my residual skin problems for about two days.
An entirely different problem that came out of the barium/mold crisis was a chronic tendency towards acidosis that led to twitching symptoms that were largely managed by eating large amounts of potassium, and avoiding alcohol, carbonated water, and other acidic drinks. A few weeks after I started working out again, I added supplementation with baking soda to this list. Although it proved tremendously helpful initially, I soon found it aggravating my problems when I would overdo the dose, and that's when I decided to start measuring my urine pH.
Urine pH: The Initial Findings
“Normal” urine pH is 5.5-8.0. Optimal urine pH is probably 6.4-6.8 during most of the day.
I started with pH strips that gave readings between 5.5-8.0.
I started testing on the evening of July 31. I had overdosed on bicarbonate and pushed my urine pH at or above 8.0. I cut out the bicarbonate and it fell to 5.8 by the end of the evening. The next day, it was 6.6 when I woke up, but it quickly fell below 5.5. It was too acidic for me to measure with the strips I bought.
I ordered strips in the 3.0-5.5 range that came in at the end of the day.
My Workout Laid Me Out and Pushed Me into Acidosis
The next day, I woke up with a pH of 5.0 and took 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate, which brought it up to 5.8 within an hour (the full effect tends to take several hours for me). Then I did a workout, and came home with a pH of 5.5, at 1:20 PM. I took another 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate, but my pH didn't budge. I took another 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate, and my pH dropped to 5.0. I took a third 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate at 5:35 PM (my fourth that day, if you count the dose I took when I woke up), and finally my pH rose to 6.0. It fell back to 5.8 after a couple of hours and stayed there till I went to bed.
Two things are rather remarkable from this one experiment.
First of all, I took a full teaspoon of bicarbonate that day when totaled together, which is about how much I had taken the day before when my pH hit 8.0 or higher. The workout, designed to minimize metabolic stress, must have been profoundly stressful since it plunged my urine pH into strong acidity for the rest of the day despite the multiple doses of bicarbonate. What would the pH have been had I not taken any bicarbonate at all? Probably much more acidic.
Second, my workout floored me. I wound up laying in bed for hours, napping during part of the time. Around 6:00 PM I suddenly sprung out of bed full of energy and ready to work. I had taken my fourth dose of bicarbonate that day about 25 minutes earlier. I measured my urine pH right after jumping out of bed to find that it hit 6.0 for the first time all day. Although it could have been coincidence, the sudden spike of energy and well being corresponded stunningly to the change in my urine pH.
Optimizing the Dose of Bicarbonate
In the first couple of weeks of August, I collected hundreds of urine pH measurements during experiments to optimize the dose of bicarbonate. I will publish the data later when I have it better organized and can explain it more fully.
My tentative conclusions are as follows:
On rest days, I need 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda upon waking, then another 1/4 teaspoon about 12 hours later.
On workout days, I need 1/2 teaspoon upon waking. Then, within two hours, I begin my workout with 1/2 teaspoon dissolved in one of my water bottles. Since the bicarbonate takes a while to circulate through my system, I drink the bottle with bicarbonate first, and then drink plain water after that if I need more.
This has been nothing short of game-changing:
I have not crashed once, not one single time, at all, after any of my workouts since implementing this regimen.
Supplementing With Creatine
After I determined the bicarbonate dosing schedule that I needed to stabilize the pH response to my workouts, I tested the effect of creatine loading on my pH stability. Creatine is a buffer both of the ATP supply and the pH of muscle tissue. Even buffering the ATP supply itself will add to the pH buffering because it will prevent the need to generate lactate.
For five days, I took a total of 20 grams of Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Powder divided as 5 grams with each of four meals. Then I dropped it to a 5 gram per day maintenance dose.
I didn't find that it had any clear effect on my urine pH, but it made me feel more energized and stronger in the gym, so I'm staying on it for now.
The creatine I'm using has a purity of 99.9%. I may switch to Creapure when I finish this bottle, which has a purity of 99.99%, but I haven't experienced any negative effects of the one I'm taking now.
How This Revolutionized My Workouts
Since optimizing this regimen, far more has changed than simply not crashing:
Instead of working out once every five days, I now workout two days on, one day off, for a total of four to five days a week.
I am no longer sticking religiously to 3 minute rests. In fact, sometimes I superset exercises for several sets without any rest at all.
I am generally in the gym for two hour sessions, just like I was when I was doing a full body workout once every five days, so breaking up my workouts to 4-5 times per week means I am doing at least 4-5 times the work I was doing just a week ago.
So, I'm now doing 4-5 times the work without crashing that two weeks ago put me in bed for three hours and required five days of rest.
For the first time all year, I love working out. I get out of the gym excited to go back next time.
I attribute these remarkable changes mostly to the bicarbonate, but the creatine has really iced the cake for me.
Should You Measure Your Urine pH and Take Bicarbonate?
This was game-changing for me, but I'm recovering from significant health problems, so it might not be as applicable for you as it has been for me. Still, it's a minor expense of time and money to do some testing with a potentially big payoff.
I'm not ready to recommend a specific protocol, but I can offer some general guidelines:
Don't take bicarbonate on a full stomach. If you take it with food, it could hurt your digestion and you're likely to burp much of it up as carbon dioxide rather than absorbing it. Take it at least a couple of hours after your last meal and at least 20 minutes before you eat anything and before you drink anything other than water.
Don't take bicarbonate without measuring your urine pH. I pushed myself into alkalosis with too much bicarbonate, so it's important to first make sure you need it and to then titrate up from a small dose to find what brings your urine pH into the 6.4-6.8 range most stably through the day.
Be careful with bicarbonate if you have any sign of fungal infection in your GI tract. Some (but not all) fungi thrive in alkaline environments. I don't believe bicarbonate will aggravate fungal infections in the skin and nails because I believe the pH of those areas is largely driven by the local microbial ecology. But bicarbonate will enter your GI tract in a concentrated form that could theoretically aggravate a fungal infection within the GI tract. I want to emphasize that this is a theoretical concern and some fungal pathogens thrive in acidic environments.
Don't assume pH is all about bicarbonate. I have more research to do to understand what is at the root of my tendency toward acidosis, but it certainly isn't a deficiency of bicarbonate supplementation. Vegetables, and to a lesser extent fruits, beans, nuts, and milk tend to be alkalinizing, while grains tend to be neutral, and meat, fish, and eggs tend to be acidifying. Acidic drinks like carbonated water can contribute to the acid load. A wide variety of nutrients are needed for proper pH balance, and this includes the zinc you would find most abundantly in animal foods. Metabolic disorders or illnesses could be at the root of pH imbalances, so additional bloodwork and a doctor's guidance are needed if your values are markedly abnormal.
Nevertheless, it's likely that for anyone an intense workout will create pressure on the acid-base balance towards acidity that would be relieved by bicarbonate, so I think it makes sense from a performance perspective to use urine pH to determine how the dose and schedule of bicarbonate might help your workouts.
How I Measured My Urine pH
Here's what I used:
Hydrion 5.5-8 pH strips. These correspond to the normal pH of urine and are the main ones I use.
Hydrion 3-5.5 pH strips. These are backup strips in case my urine pH falls below 5.5. If the 5.5-8 strips say it is exactly 5.5, I check it with these to make sure it isn't actually lower.
Specimen Cups With Lids. I got these partly because I figured they should be optimized for not reacting with the urine in any way that could change the measurements, and partly because I don't want to put urine in anything that serves some other purpose in my place. But, they should probably be considered optional.
You may find other products that are useful — and certainly if I continue this for another month it will turn out to have been more economical to buy a digital pH probe — but at least make sure that if you use pH strips your main strips are in the 5.5-8 range because if the range is broader the results will be less precise.
How to Share This Post and Show It Love
Have you ever measured your urine pH? If so, what did you get out of it?
If you measure the pH response to your workouts, let me know what you find in the comments!
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