Eating Your Greens Could Enhance Sports Performance

A study has found that nitrate supplements in conjunction with Sprint Interval Training in low oxygen conditions could enhance sport performance.

A study was carried out by researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium with, twenty-seven moderately trained participants. These participants were given nitrate supplements ahead of Sprint Interval Training (SIT), which took the form of short but intense cycling sessions three times a week.

Nitrate is important for the functioning of the human body, especially during exercise, and it is commonly found in diets rich in leafy green foods like spinach. The study included workouts in normal oxygen conditions and in hypoxia conditions, which are low oxygen levels such as those found in high altitudes, to assess differences in performance in different conditions.

The study showed that the muscle fiber composition changed with the enhanced nitrate intake when training in low oxygen conditions after only five weeks. And according to Professor Peter Hespel from the Athletic Performance Center at the University of Leuven, “This is probably the first study to demonstrate that a simple nutritional supplementation strategy, i.e. oral nitrate intake, can impact on training-induced changes in muscle fiber composition.”

This study is particularly interesting for athletes participating in sports competitions which require energy production in conditions with limited amounts of oxygen. And actually, exercising at high altitudes has become a training strategy for many athletes, despite the uncertainties about such methods.

To sustain the power, high inputs of fast-oxidative muscle fibers are required to perform intense workouts in these conditions. Enhancing these muscle fiber types through nutritional intake could very well boost the performance in this type of events.

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“Whether this increase in fast-oxidative muscle fibers eventually can also enhance exercise performance remains to be established;” said Professor Hespel. He further cautioned that: “consistent nitrate intake in conjunction with training must not be recommended until the safety of chronic high-dose nitrate intake in humans has been clearly demonstrated.” He continues, “In times where athletes push the limits of their bodies and thrive for ever greater performances, this is clearly only the beginning of the research into how athletes can improve their competitive edge through dietary supplements. Looking to the future, Professor Hespel suggested: “it would now be interesting to investigate whether addition of nitrate-rich vegetables to the normal daily sports diet of athletes could facilitate training-induced muscle fiber type transitions and maybe, in the long term, also exercise performance.”

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