There are various ways in which you can optimise your athletic performance, which include a good training plan, plenty of rest and recovery and a good diet. Once you have achieved the most out of your training and dietary planning, consuming supplements may be useful to give you that extra ‘edge’. That being said, athletes should always be cautious when using supplements, as there are only a handful that have extensive empirical evidence behind them. One supplement that is growing a large body of quality evidence for its ability to assist in endurance exercise is Nitrate.
What is Nitrate?
Nitrate is a naturally occurring compound found in vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables) and processed meats (as they are often used as a preservative with sodium). On its own, Nitrate is considered biologically inactive, however once ingested, the Nitrate compound is reduced to become Nitric Oxide (NO) which is thought to have physiological effects on the body.
How does NO improve performance?
NO acts a signalling molecule which increases blood flow via vasodilation, thereby increasing oxygen delivery to the working muscles, whilst also regulating muscle contraction, glucose uptake (which assists in providing energy to the working muscles) and cellular respiration. It is thought that NO can help to decrease the energy cost of exercise, which in turn improves efficiency, allowing the athlete to exercise harder at the same perceived level of effort.
How should Nitrate be taken?
Presently, it is recommended to consume approximately 300mg of Nitrate up to two hours prior to exercise, which equates to about a cup of Nitrate rich vegetables (i.e. beetroot, celery, rocket, spinach). Or alternatively, a more concentrated dose (i.e. beetroot juice) may be consumed, although it should be cautioned that beetroot juice may cause gastrointestinal upset. It is also recommended that Nitrate should not be consumed as an isolated supplement as it may lead to overdose.