What if eating your vegetables could help your performance?
Were mom and dad right all along?
Last fall at the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and
Dietetics, I attended a session from the leading expert on dietary
nitrate for health and performance, Dr. Andrew Jones of the
University of Exeter in the U.K.
His twitter handle is @AndyBeetroot, and beets – specifically
beetroot juice – is a vegetable that contains a high
concentration of dietary nitrate. The nitrate found in these
veggies gets converted in the body to nitric oxide, which controls
a lot of functions related to exercise performance, such as
regulating blood vessel tone and blood flow.
Dr. Jones got interested in research on nitrate and beetroot from a
2007 study that showed using beetroot juice for three days improved
exercise economy or efficiency by 3 to 5%. Put another way,
beetroot juice reduced the oxygen cost of exercise.
The amount of dietary nitrate found in veggies varies depending on
the soil they were grown in, but in addition to beets, try
including these veggies in your diet to get more nitrate:
Root vegetables, including beets
Chinese cabbage (also called Napa)
And, my personal favorite, Arugula (also called Rocket)
Dietary nitrate can also help lower blood pressure, so including
these veggies is good for the whole family. Nitrate may also
enhance blood flow to the brain, improving cognitive function and
can help with your body’s adaptation to training.
Dr. Jones uses beetroot juice in his research because he says it is
easier to get a consistent dose and many athletes don’t like
the “earthy” taste of beets.
I suggest including a wide variety of veggies because they offer
more than just nitrate. They are also packed with fiber, vitamins
and minerals. Try roasting carrots, beets, turnips, and other root
veggies, add bok choy and napa to a stir-fry, and top your
sandwiches, wraps, and pizza (yes, it is good!) with arugula, and
snack on celery and carrot sticks. Not only will you increase
nitrate intake, but you will sneak in some much-needed veggies.