There has been a lot of talk in media recently about how a daily glass of beetroot juice can improve your exercise capacity. The high levels of nitrates in the beetroot juice are thought to be responsible for the effects seen.
During periods of low oxygen levels (hypoxic conditions) such as strenuous exercise, nitrate is converted to nitric oxide (NO). As it is a strong dilator of blood vessels, NO causes the muscle to have more blood and thus oxygen during these low oxygen times. NO also has roles in oxygen mediated energy production therefore the body can produce more energy for the same amount of oxygen i.e. lowering the oxygen cost of the muscles.
Studies have shown that nitrate supplementation has led to an extension in the time-to-exhaustion during high-intensity exercise as well as an improved time trial performance. It is therefore thought that the addition of nitrates to the diet could lead to a 1-2% increase in sporting performance.
Overall, the scientific literature supports the fact that nitrate supplementation via beetroot juice does improve an athlete’s performance. There is still some argument about by exactly how much the nitrate supplementation improves an individual’s performance. It does seem to be that the higher level elite athletes gain little benefit from the addition of nitrates to their diet and the population in which the most benefit is seen is the moderately trained or subelite athletes. It is also thought that consumption of the nitrates should be done around 2-2.5hrs before the event to have a maximal response.
It has also been reported that nitrate supplementation causes a reduction in blood pressure which is a great health benefit!
- Christensen, P. M., Nyberg, M. and Bangsbo, J. (2013), Influence of nitrate supplementation on VO2 kinetics and endurance of elite cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine Science in Sports
- Lee J. Wylie , James Kelly , Stephen J. Bailey , Jamie R. Blackwell, Philip F. Skiba , Paul G. Winyard , Asker E. Jeukendrup , Anni Vanhatalo, Andrew M. Jones. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2013
- Lansley KE, Winyard PG, Bailey SJ, Vanhatalo A. Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Medicine and Science in sports exercise. 2011