February 14, 2019
Vegetables for Performance?
By Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN | Wednesday, January 9, 2019
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
- Bok Choy
- 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.
Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist who has provided nutrition information to coaches and athletes for over 30 years. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents, and coaches at firstname.lastname@example.org.