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When nitrate supplementation doesn’t involve supplements

We've covered several nitrate supplementation studies in previous ERDs. This trial is unique in that it studied the impact of a nitrate-rich diet on exercise performance.

Study under review: Effects of a Short-Term High-Nitrate Diet on Exercise Performance


Numerous studies have indicated that high intake of nitrates, typically in the form of beetroot juice or sodium nitrate, can help improve exercise performance in moderately-trained individuals.

Nitrate converts to nitric oxide (NO), which is a signaling molecule and metabolite associated with several physiological functions[1] involving blood pressure regulation and cardiovascular health, mitochondria production, calcium transport, oxidative stress, and skeletal muscle repair. Evidence[2] suggests that acute nitrate supplementation, whether pharmacological (e.g. sodium/potassium nitrate), or dietary (e.g. beetroot juice/powder) may reduce the body’s oxygen demand during exercise, which, in this instance, is a primary mechanism for improvements in exercise performance.

Reducing the cost of oxygen is a significant benefit in exercise performance because it can prolong the time it takes to reach muscular exhaustion and fatigue (a benefit largely attributed to increased mitochondrial efficiency). This allows for more efficient energy production without an accompanying increase in lactic acid concentrations.

Studies[2] yielding positive results have so far been limited to sedentary individuals, novice trainees, or moderately-trained participants. On the other hand, nitrate supplementation in maximal effort exercise scenarios (measuring contraction, force-frequency, and fatigability of the quadriceps) has failed to show much benefit in participants following four[3], seven[4], or 15[5] days of nitrate supplementation. Results from at least one study[6] investigating nitrate and its effect on high intensity exercise performance have also failed to produce a significant positive effect.

Nitrate supplementation most commonly involves beetroot juices, concentrates, powders, or sodium nitrate. For instance, one study[7] used 200 grams of whole, baked beetroot. There are few studies[8] investigating the effects of a high-nitrate intake based solely on a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of this form of nitrate intervention on exercise performance in a sample of healthy males.

The aim of this study was to assess whether a diet rich in fruits and vegetables — thus, rich in nitrates — could increase plasma nitrate and nitrite concentrations and improve exercise performance in healthy, moderately-trained participants.

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