Nitrates are naturally occurring compounds found in vegetables, in particular, green leafy vegetables and beetroot, as well as processed meats. Nitrates are considered biologically inactive. However, once ingested they undergo transformation in the body to become nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, which is active, acts as a messenger signal to expand the diameter of blood vessels thereby increasing blood flow to the muscles and the body’s organs. It also regulates muscle contraction and is involved in cellular activity. Plus, there is evidence to show that boosting your body’s supply of nitric oxide can enhance exercise performance. And, the best way to do this is with nitrates.
The main advantage of supplementing with nitrates is to reduce the energy cost of exercise to improve the efficiency of your workloads. So, you can work out at a greater intensity for the same level of effort. Numerous studies have shown that supplementing with nitrates improves output and exercise efficiency and increases time to exhaustion. These results were typically observed in submaximal exercise like cycling and endurance activities. However, it is important to note that the use of nitrates in team sports or power sports like weightlifting has yet to be investigated.
The question then beckons: how do you supplement with nitrates? The evidence shows that a therapeutic dose of nitrate is approximately 300mg, which is the equivalent to one cup of nitrate-rich vegetables. Think celery, spinach, rocket, cabbage, lettuce, turnip and celeriac. However, I doubt you’d want to eat 250g of veggies before you start a race. So don’t despair, there is an easier option. Believe it or not, beetroot juice is a much more concentrated of nitrates. And, better yet, there are some commercial options currently available – Go Beet and Beet It. It is best consumed about two hours before the competition. However, if you do want to trial beetroot juice it is best to give it a whirl under training circumstances.
It may be an odd thing to supplement with, but beetroot juice may provide a competitive edge to help boost your performance. You never know, it might just give you that extra one per cent to beet your opponent.