Nitrates have become an extremely popular supplement in recent years. A number of studies have demonstrated performance benefits after ingesting nitrate-rich foods such as beetroot juice and spinach. Nitric oxide causes a number of effects on the human body. These include increased blood flow, regulation of cellular respiration and regulation of muscle contraction and glucose uptake.
Many performance benefits have been proposed but it appears the most likely benefit is a reduction in the energy cost of running. This would theoretically allow an individual to exercise at the same intensity with less effort. It’s early days, but the research appears to show that endurance athletes, in particular, may benefit from supplementation.
Currently, specific dosage guidelines for individuals are lacking. The equivalent of 250-300 g of nitrate-rich vegetables such as rocket, beetroot, broccoli and spinach has shown to be beneficial but it remains unclear as to whether taking a concentrated dose such as a Beet It shot is more beneficial than consuming the equivalent amount through dietary sources.
The side effects associated with increased nitrate intake are negligible. Concerns dating back to the 1960s blame nitrates for causing cancers. New guidelines suggest that the benefits associated with the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables out way the potential risks of the associated nitrate consumption.
Although the research is promising, much more work is required to unpick the mechanisms involved and consequently the potential performance benefits to be gained. The dosage, timing and safety of nitrate intake need further investigation before athletes integrate nitrate supplementation into their performance plan. Research in this area is growing fast and many of the questions raised here are likely to be answered soon. We’ll keep you posted!