Nitric oxide (NO) is a key signalling molecule that modulates skeletal muscle function by regulating blood flow to your muscles, muscle contraction, glucose and calcium regulation and energy production within the energy manufacturing factory…the mitochondria! Nitric oxide was originally thought to only be generated from L-arginine, however it is now widely acknowledged that NO can actually be derived via the reduction of nitrate to nitrite, and nitrite to NO.
Nitrates can be found in moderate amounts in foods you eat such as green leafy vegetables, turnips, and herbs such as parsley and dill. Foods that are high in nitrates include celeriac, fennel and leeks, and those that are very high are spinach (just ask popeye), lettuce, rocket, celery, cress, and beetroot!
Beetroot is of particular interest in the sport supplement world right now for its nitrate content. Beetroot is also a good source of:
> Betacyanin, Silica, Glycine Betaine and Methionine (essential amino acid)
> Magnesium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Copper, Selenium, Zinc, Iron and Managanese
> Flavenoids and Carotenoids
> Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B9 (folic acid) and C
Betacyanin is responsible for the deep red colour of beetroot, and is championed as an anti-cancer agent for colon cancer. The Silica present in beetroot juice helps the body to utilise calcium, in turn strengthening bones and enhancing teeth, nails, hair and skin! Glycine, Betaine, and Methionine support liver detoxification while protecting the integrity of cells.
Beetroot juice is also known to improve digestive health and regulate metabolism.
It’s the combination of nitrates, antioxidants and polyphenols that work synergistically (together) to aid the bioconversion of nitrate to NO. So if beetroot is such a dense source of nitrates, then it stands to reason that it may play a part in performance enhancement.
Beetroot and exercise performance
The effectiveness of beetroot in enhancing performance is mostly down to the nitrates in the soil from which the beetroot is grown. This converts into nitrite within the body and then into NO which is known to widen blood vessels, increase blood flow to the muscles, which directly increases oxygen delivery to the working muscles.
One of the best ways to reap the benefits of beetroot is by taking shots (70ml) of concentrated beetroot juice, and a great example is Beet It SPORT Stamina Shot. One of these nutrient packed shots also count as one of your five a day!
Ferreira LF, Behnke BJ, A Toast to Health and Performance! Beetroot Juice Lowers Blood Pressure and the O₂ Cost of Exercise, Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011, 110(3):585-6.
Larsen FJ, Weitzberg E, Lundberg JO, Ekblom B, Dietary Nitrate Reduces Maximal Oxygen Consumption while Maintaining Work Performance in Maximal Exercise, Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 2010, 48(2):342-7.