Unless you have been on Mars recently you would have heard some mention of nitrate supplementation. The current hot topic of the sport nutrition world has reached boiling point and has everyone salivating, apart from me. (That’s only because I can’t stand beetroot!)
The supplement of focus is Nitric Oxide (NO). NO, the ‘Molecule of the Year, 1992’, has for some time now been suspected to aid performance capabilities; particularly during sub maximal aerobic exercise. Over the last year or so its support has increased, to the point where it is being used by many high level athletes across an array of sports. Performance nutritionists at The English Institute of Sport advocate the use of beetroot shots in their triathlete’s and swimmer’s training programmes in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics Games.
Beetroot shots have recently arisen as a naturally occurring ergogenic aid, which assist and enhance aerobic exercise performance. Beetroot supplementation prior to exercise has been shown to decrease O2 demand during sub maximal intensities, resulting in a higher exercise tolerance. It has even been reported in some research that beetroot shots work to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in healthy volunteers.
The idea is that during exercise NO plays a fundamental role in maintaining normal vascular function, as it diffuses into muscles and blood vessels resulting in vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels). The consequential increase in blood flow means more O2 to working muscles, resulting in a ‘harder/better/faster/stronger’ performance, right? Well, in a way yes!
The literature suggests NO levels are important in O2 consumption rates in active muscles. NO has been found to influence O2 utilization, modulating muscle contraction and muscle glucose uptake. Nitrates allow blood flow to match O2 requirements, providing regular supply within skeletal muscles, thus increasing muscle function. NO also interacts with enzymes in the mitochondrial respiratory chain. This is a process by which energy (ATP) is generated in aerobic activity.
NO supplementation lowers the O2 cost (the amount of O2 used by the muscles during exercise) of sub maximal activity, suggesting an increase in the ability to meet exercise demands of intensities between 44-89% of VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum volume of O2 the body can consume per minute.Research shows that on average VO2 (not to be mistaken for VO2 max!) decreases from 2.98Lmin-1 to 2.82Lmin-1 during nitrate supplementation over lower exercise intensities. These findings agree with previous mentioned literature, in that O2 cost of sub-maximal exercise is reduced following NO supplementation.
So, as you can see NO’s emergence as one of the hottest sport nutrition supplements is warranted. The benefits and advantages provided by NO, especially for athletes in aerobic sports are very impressive. However, beetroot shots are not some magical potion and its key they are integrated into and used alongside a correctly constructed training programme. Also, it must be noted that nitrates are essential micronutrients that everyone must have as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Beetroot is excellent, but spinach, rocket and lettuce are a fitting alternative for the health-aspiring non athlete.
There you have it; the power of NO!
Thanks for reading,