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Better performance with nitrate supplementation?

Nitrates are one of the few supplements that consistently show promise for athletic performance. But should you take them acutely or chronically for best effect?

Study under review: The effects of multi-day vs. Single preexercise nitrate supplement dosing on simulated cycling time trial performance and skeletal muscle oxygenation

Introduction

Nitric oxide[1] is a small molecule made in the body that plays a variety of roles. One such role is as a vasodilator, meaning that it relaxes blood vessels and aids in blood flow. Since muscles need the oxygen and nutrients in the blood in order to function well, it’s possible that nitric oxide may enhance exercise performance and muscle function[2].

One way to enhance[3] nitric oxide production is via ingestion of exogenous nitrates (i.e. nitrate supplements or nitrate-containing foods, as shown in Figure 1). Other supplements like L-citrulline and L-arginine might also boost nitric oxide, but some researchers argue that L-arginine is relatively ineffective[4] for this purpose. This is one the reasons why nitrates are particularly promising.

Figure 1: How nitric oxide (NO) is made

Adapted from: Lundberg et al. Cardiovasc Res. 2011 Feb.

The promise of nitrate supplementation has panned out in some studies linking nitrates to improved blood flow[5] and blood pressure[6]. In addition, nitrate supplementation with beetroot juice might decrease the oxygen cost[7] of running, and reduce maximal oxygen consumption[8] during exercise. Hence, nitrates could improve exercise economy and performance[9].

Yet with all these benefits, researchers are still trying to figure out how long nitrates need to be taken before they improve performance. Is it enough to take a nitrate supplement right before an exercise session or competition, or should it be taken daily for a more extended period? In other words, is there a difference between single-day and multi-day nitrate supplementation? This is what the study under review sought to answer.

Nitrates might improve blood flow, blood pressure, exercise performance, and exercise economy. However, it’s unclear whether there is a difference between single dosing before a session compared to chronic dosing. The study under review was designed to determine whether two weeks of daily nitrate supplementation was more effective than single-day supplementation for muscle oxygenation and cycling performance.

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