Do you ever feel a hankering for one of those famous Aussie burgers you could get at every milk bar by the beach in summer? You know, the kind that is dripping with tomato sauce and loaded with all the extras including pineapple rings and beetroot? It was one of the quintessential tastes of growing up as an active kid in Queensland; swimming, riding and running. As it turns out, research supports that at least one of those key burger ingredients may still be essential for your swimming, riding, and running performance.
Nitric oxide (NO) may have been one of those gases that you played around with in high school chemistry. NO has a number of important roles in the body which may positively affect sports performance, including dilating blood vessels (allowing increased blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles), assisting with muscle contraction, reducing the oxygen cost of exercise, and influencing immune function1. So, where do we get this good gas from? Why, the humble beetroot of course! We find decent amounts of its precursor nitrate in beetroot (think beetroot on your burger) but also in carrots, cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, spinach, rocket, and rhubarb, to name a few. Interestingly, nitrate can be converted to NO both by bacteria in our mouths (if we possess the right kind) or by other mechanisms in our guts. We also produce some of our own NO in our bodies.
Studies over the last ten years using nitrate supplementation have shown promising results both for improving time to exhaustion and increasing cycling time-trial performance over shorter distances (4-16km).2,3,4 If you’re sitting in the general mix for triathlon you’ll be happy to note that these studies were performed on sub-elite athletes. There is also some promising early evidence for prolonged or endurance exercise ~2hrs, showing that supplementation with nitrate, in the form of concentrated beetroot juice, before as well as during, can prevent the loss in exercise efficiency that happens over longer time periods. 5 Part of this effect may be due to the lowered oxygen cost of exercise as well as better maintenance of glycogen (energy) stores in the muscle when blood nitrate concentrations are higher. More research is necessary to ascertain if these factors can actually be translated into performance improvement over long course activities. Studies carried out on elite endurance athletes have shown that nitrate supplementation may actually be better suited to less fit people! The biggest improvements are generally seen in the least aerobically adapted, and in some cases elite athletes derived no performance benefits. 6, 7 All the more reason to get into some beets and leafy greens if you’ve let your training go by the wayside a little over winter.
Supplementation with concentrated beetroot juice has been shown to improve repeated sprint performance, and almost more importantly, help maintain cognitive function when ordinarily our brains would be fatiguing. 8 Think about the number of decisions and speedy reactions you need to make during a triathlon (which line do I take through this corner? How high do I swing my leg back to dismount?) These decisions become increasingly difficult when we are fatigued and reaction times slow down. These same decisions can be make-or-break to your performance during a tight sprint distance race. With Worlds just around the corner on the Gold Coast, one decision you can make right now is to put more nitrate-rich veggies on your daily menu. Try our recipe for Beetroot Cacao and Walnut Loaf (chock-full of goodness) or make your next burger plant-based trendy with our Beetroot and Butterbean recipe.
If you’re after the edge with nitrate supplementation then book an appointment with us today to discuss potential dosing protocols and concentrated beetroot products that are on the market today.
- Larsen et al. (2007) Effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen cost during exercise. Acta. Physiol. Sep;191(1):59-66.
- Lansley et al. Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Jun;43(6):1125-31.
- Bailey et al. (2009) Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). Oct;107(4):1144-55
- Cermak et al. (2012) Nitrate Supplementation’s Improvement of 10-km Time-Trial performance in Trained Cyclists. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 22, 64-71
- Tan et al. (2018) Beetroot juice ingestion during prolonged moderate-intensity exercise attenuates progressive rise in O2 J Appl Physiol. May 1;124(5):1254-1263.
- Christensen et al. (2013)Influence of nitrate supplementation on VO₂ kinetics and endurance of elite cyclists. Scand J Med Sci Sports. Feb;23(1):e21-31.
- Porcelli et al. (2015) Aerobic Fitness Affects the Exercise Performance Responses to Nitrate Supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Aug;47(8):1643-51
- Thompson et al. (2015) Dietary nitrate improves sprint performance and cognitive function during prolonged intermittent exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. Sep;115(9):1825-34.