Triathlon goal calls for a balanced training regimen

The Ironman athlete Brenden Brazier bases his diet on how foods affect his body's pH levels. Lifestyle coach Amanda Hamilton shares her views.

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The British television presenter and lifestyle coach Amanda Hamilton shares her views on health and nutrition. Call it a midlife crisis or a need to shift the remaining baby pounds, but last week I signed up for my first triathlon. In a few short months I will be donning a wetsuit and gearing up for a half-mile outdoor swim, 13-mile bike ride and three-mile run. Among the sport's aficionados, my jaunt is rather dismissively considered a "sprint" triathlon - a walk in the park compared with the real deal.

Still, triathlon is one of the fastest-growing sports around. My fellow midlife-challenged souls represent the fastest-growing group taking up the sport. According to USA Triathlon magazine's Tim Yount, many of these people are long-time athletes who like the idea of switching from one to three sports because it offers variety and also puts less strain on muscles and joints. But, I have to confess, I'm not in it for the variety. I am in it for the body: Jennifer Lopez's to be exact. The poster girl for triathlon beginners like me who famously reverted to her curvy best by undertaking a triathlon after having twins. If the best buns in the west can do it, then, I figure, so can I.

How to prepare? After finding my race, my mentor and my wetsuit, the next stop is a dietary overhaul. Nutritionist though I am, the required training regimen posed varied challenges on what to eat and how best to support optimum performance. One of the most interesting blogs on such nutrition is that of Brenden Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete. In a jaw-dropping case of being gluttons for punishment, Ironman participants swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a marathon - in that order and without a break. The training required to perform at this level is daily and significant, including several hours in the pool, on the bike and pounding the road. Yet Brazier is a staunch vegan who eats no animal products.

Brazier adopts an ethos similar to that of a detox, where "lightening the load" on the body involves going raw and vegan, and he sees it as the secret of his success. He fends off the protein-rich posturing of muscle-bound gym-goers by disavowing the need for eggs, fish and meat, replacing them with culinary delights such as green shakes with spirulina, chlorella and blue-green algae. However, what is really interesting about Brazier is that he has cottoned on to a scientific method of eating that allows his body to conserve his mineral reserve and, as he sees it, his competitive edge, by eating according to the pH effect of foods on his blood and body tissues.

As you may remember from high school chemistry, pH (potential of hydrogen) is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. It is measured on a scale of zero to 14. The lower the pH, the more acidic the solution; the higher the pH, the more alkaline (or base) the solution. The pH of healthy blood is 7.4, a figure most successfully attained by an alkaline-rich diet rather than an acid-forming one.

Avoiding acid-forming foods may have you worrying about lemons and limes when, in fact, the opposite is the case. A food's acid or alkaline-forming tendency in the body has nothing to do with the pH of the food itself. For example, though citrus such as lemons are chemically acid, tests show that when they are metabolised in the body they actually have an alkalising effect and are very beneficial. Similarly, meat will test as an alkaline before digestion but it leaves very acidic residue in the body so, like nearly all animal products, meat is very acid-forming.

In the battleground of the body (where races are really fought) a highly alkaline-forming diet may well provide that performance edge. The mineral reserves that Brazier talks about having in abundance because of his pH-aware approach are the electrolytes such as calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium - the ingredients of sports performance drinks. If this throwback to classroom chemistry has you in a tizz, remember to keep it simple: if you are inspired to hit the gym armed with a pH plan, remember there's no room for being a junk-food vegan. Even though foods such as white bread, sugar and carbonated beverages are free from animal products, they are still acid-forming. Caffeine is too, unfortunately. Try ordering a superfood shake instead of your morning cappuccino and see how your gym session goes. Santé!