What are Nitrates?
Nitrates (NO3-) are small molecules produced in the body in limited amounts. They function by regulating blood flow and vasodilation via their metabolite nitric oxide. When consumed nitrate is reduced to nitrite by anaerobic bacteria and presents a practical method to increase plasma nitrite concentrations. Nitrates taken in the form of salts/supplements (e.g. potassium nitrate) or from foods naturally containing high amounts of nitrates, such as beetroot juice, can produce a multitude of ergogenic benefits. This is why they are often found in pre-workouts and pump products.
What are the benefits of supplementing with Nitrates?
Nitrate supplementation increases plasma nitrite concentrations, reduces the oxygen cost of exercise, and can extend time to exhaustion during exercise by 16-25%. Nitrates appear to lower the oxygen cost of exercise by decreasing the total ATP cost of muscle force production. Nitrates also reduce the breakdown of phosphocreatine allowing for greater energy efficiency. Additionally, when nitrates enter the body, they are converted to nitrites which in turn stimulates nitric oxide pathways. This process vasodilates (enlarges) blood vessels and helps deliver more oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to working muscles to achieve a pump and ultimately muscle growth. Nitrates can reduce the rate of fatigue seen with continued muscle contractions and have the most benefit in exercises ranging from 1 minutes up to 10 minutes. As such, Nitrates can improve performance during anaerobic activities (such as weight lifting) and to a lesser extent during prolonged cardiovascular exercise (5km jogs or 10km cycling events). In regards to health, nitrates seem to lower blood pressure in instances where blood pressure is elevated. Furthermore, due to interactions with nitric oxide, nitrates appear to be kidney protective and may help to regulate blood flow during the aging process. Lastly, Nitrates may be able to exert endothelial protective effects.
What does the research say?
Here is a brief summary of a few key studies on Nitrates:
- In recreational athletes, Wylie et al. (2013) discovered consumption of Nitrates was associated with an increase in plasma nitrate and nitrate and a 4.2% increase in performance as assessed by an intermittent sprint trial.
- A time trial study using competitive male cyclists supplementing with nitrates resulted in improved performance by 2.8% in a 4km time trial, and 2.7% in a 16km time trial.
- A study by Lansley et al. (2011) found subjects who supplemented with nitrates were able to significantly increase plasma nitrite concentrations and increase power output by 5%.
- Coles and colleagues reported that subjects with a systolic blood pressure greater than 120 mmHg who consumed 500 g of a juice containing nitrate from beetroot experienced a reduction in systolic blood pressure when measured 6 hours after consumption relative to a placebo juice.
When is the best time to take Nitrates?
To take advantage of Nitrates acute ergogenic benefits, they are best consumed 30 -60 minutes before exercise. These beneficial effects can last for at least 15 days with prolonged supplementation. The optimal dose of nitrates is 6.4 -12.8mg/kg bodyweight.
Are there any adverse side effects?
Despite periodic controversy regarding human health concerns from nitrate consumption, a growing base of scientific evidence about nitrate, nitrite, and the overall metabolism of nitrogen oxides in humans appears to affirm the general safety of nitrate/nitrite in human health. A literature review by Archer examined multiple studies conducted by the National Toxicology Program that refutes the suspicions of the detrimental effects of nitrates. Additionally, a review of nitrate supplementation by Hoon et al. reported no significant health consequences of nitrate supplementation, and only one minor adverse event, the discoloration of urine, which is attributed to ingestion of nitrate in the form of beetroot juice.
Nitrates can be taken either through supplementation or whole food sources and produce many exercise and health related benefits. To recap Nitrates can:
- Increase plasma nitrite concentrations
- Increase vasodilation and blood flow
- Decrease the total ATP cost of muscle force production
- Reduce the breakdown of phosphocreatine allowing for greater energy efficiency
- Increase mitochondrial efficiency
- Prolong time to exhaustion
- Improve anaerobic running capacity
- Improve performance in events lasting 1 to 30 minutes
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce the oxygen cost of exercise
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