What is Nitrate?
Although (inorganic) nitrate is found naturally in a range of vegetables, the excitement around beetroot juice as the latest sports supplement comes from its particularly high content of nitrate in an easy to deliver package. Beetroot juice can be made at home with a juicer but concentrated shots are generally more popular owing to the much lower volume required than DIY juices for the same amount of nitrate (70ml vs. ~500ml respectively).
Nitrate and performance
Once consumed, nitrate is converted in the mouth and stomach to nitric oxide (NO). NO has several roles in the body but importantly acts as a vasodilator, opening blood vessels and allowing more blood and oxygen to be delivered to muscles. Nitrate may also reduce the energy cost of exercise and positively affect muscle contraction.
Who might benefit from Nitrate supplementation
This remains an area for further research but there appears to be beneficial effects on performance for a range of endurance and team sport activities (at least in the lab). It also appears that athletes training or competing at altitude (a low oxygen environment) may have particularly good responses to nitrate supplementation.
Recommended dosing strategy
We still have a lot to learn in this area. Research to date uses an array of strategies with variable amounts (~300-600mg nitrate) and timing of supplementation (single acute dose, split/top up acute doses, chronic loading). As a side note, athletes using beetroot juice should avoid using mouthwash or gum as they reduce the bacteria available in the mouth, essential for the conversion of nitrate to nitric oxide.
Potential side effects
- Mild gut discomfort in some athletes (particularly those who with FODMAPS intolerances)
- Pink coloured urine and stools (harmless)
The incorporation of nitrate supplementation into an athlete’s nutrition plan should be considered on an individual basis. Working with an Accredited Sports Dietitian will help to ensure that the most appropriate dosing strategy and best results are achieved.
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