‘Beetroot juice is better for footballers than for cyclists’

Nitrate, which can be found in beetroot juice for instance, has a positive effect on the performances of trained athletes who are mostly required to make a short-term, explosive effort, such as footballers. For endurance athletes, such as cyclists, nitrate doesn’t appear to have, or hardly has, that effect, according to research conducted by Maastricht University and Maastricht UMC+.

This isn’t the first time the performance-enhancing effects of nitrate for recreational athletes has been conducted, but up till now there wasn’t conclusive proof of the effect of this on professional athletes. Researchers of the Human Biology department in Maastricht researched what happens to nitrate in bodies, and looked at the effects on the performances of well-trained footballers and well-trained cyclists.

Nitrate is turned into nitrite in the body, and then into nitrogen monoxide. This substance ensures, among other things, an increase of blood circulation in muscles, and it ensures a more efficient muscle contraction. The effect of this mostly seems positive for athletes who make a short-term, explosive effort, such as footballers. When taking in 800 milligrams of nitrate per day for six days, their sprint ability improved by 3.4 per cent. That effect doesn’t occur, or hardly occurs, for professional endurance athletes, probably because the supply of oxygen to the muscles has been optimised. It is, after all, thought that nitrate improves the athletic performance when the muscle is not getting enough oxygen, as is the case with an explosive effort of high intensity.

The researchers also looked into the possible positive effects of nitrate on health, and concluded that taking in nitrate leads to a significant reduction of blood pressure. Further research will have to prove how that can be explained and whether the intake of nitrate could be an effective option when treating high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases. Nitrate from natural sources, such as beetroot, spinach and rocket, appear to have more effect on blood pressure than taking nitrate salt.

Source: Universiteit Maastricht 

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