It’s no longer just a thing of the Popeye cartoons, eating your greens really does boost fitness.
Leafy greens such as spinach usually contain nitrates and can work wonders for your performance at the gym.
The compound, nitrate found in your leafy greens is important for the functioning of our bodies, and even more so when we’re exercising. A the University of Leuven, in Belgium, found that athletes who consumed nitrate supplements before sprint interval training showed changes in their muscle fibres.
The participants who consumed the supplements for only five weeks showed improved composition of their muscle fibres, which helped to boost their performance.
“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 fibre composition.”
– Professor Peter Hespel
The participants carried out a variety of workouts in normal oxygen conditions and in hypoxia conditions (where there are low levels of oxygen, to simulate being at high altitude). By doing so, they discovered the benefits of taking nitrates before exercising was much more evident at high altitude, where oxygen was less.
These findings are no doubt great news for athletes that who compete and train at high altitude. In these conditions, performing intense workouts requires high input of fast-oxidative muscle fibres to sustain their power and performance. By enhancing these muscle fibre types through diet, this could indeed boost athletes’ performance in events held at high altitude. But this particular part remains unknown for the moment.
“Whether this increase in fast-oxidative muscle fibres eventually can also enhance exercise performance remains to be established,”
– Professor Hespel.
Professor Hespel also warned 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.”
In this day and age where athletes push their limits and strive to achieve great performances, this news will come in handy. Although it’s only the beginning of the research into how athletes can improve their competitive edge through dietary supplements.
Professor Hespel suggested that future research would be interesting to find out whether adding nitrate-rich vegetables to the normal daily sports diet of athletes could facilitate training-induced muscle fibre type transitions and possible, exercise performance in the long term.
Findings from this research is published in the Frontiers in Physiology journal.
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