Nitrates are compounds found in a variety of foods and are even produced by our own bodies. Most dietary nitrates are derived from vegetables, which soak up nitrogen from the soil and convert it to nitrates in vegetables. Since the complexities of dietary nitrates and their impact on performance can be confusing, we’re breaking down the science of dietary nitrates so that you can understand a little more about the benefits of eating more vegetables:
1. Nitrates are activated in your mouth.
As the gateway for all food and beverages entering the body, your mouth is pretty important—especially for nitrates. In fact, your mouth contains oral bacteria with enzymes highly effective at breaking down nitrate in saliva into the more bioactive nitrite, which is then circulated through the bloodstream (1). Nitrite is also converted to nitric oxide, which is a potent vasodilator, signaling the smooth muscles of the inner lining of blood vessels to relax—thus improving blood flow. Research still continues to determine all the biological roles that nitric oxide plays in the body, but they include support for the brain, overall blood flow and oxygen delivery, blood sugar control, and even support to learning and memory formation (2). None of this could happen, however, if not for the bacteria in the mouth that first breaks down the nitrates. Even more interesting is that some antibacterial mouthwashes and toothpastes can prevent this beneficial step in metabolism by inhibiting the conversion of nitrate to nitrite (3). It’s a good reason to not mix your mouthwash with your nitrates if you want them to be effective.
2. You should supplement even if you eat a lot of vegetables.
Athletes have a lot to gain from supplementation. Regular consumption of dietary nitrates results in production of nitric oxide that supports blood flow, which means more oxygen and nutrient delivery to your muscles. When your muscles are working during exercise, they rely on blood flow to deliver oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells and remove waste. When blood flow fails to keep with up this delivery and removal, your body hits a “wall” and fatigue sets in. With greater support to nitric oxide production, you get ensured delivery of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles for optimum performance and recovery. In fact, many studies have found that dietary nitrate supplementation, such as in the form of beet shots, improves exercise tolerance, lowers oxygen consumption during cardio exercise, and increases the efficiency of muscle contraction (2).
3. Nitrates aren’t just for athletes; they’re for everyone.
Apart from helping you train harder and longer, consuming a higher intake of dietary nitrates from vegetables also helps contribute to an overall healthier diet. There is an ever-growing list of reasons why you should eat more vegetables for better health, but clearly one factor is also their concentration of dietary nitrates (4). But not all vegetables are good sources of nitrates. Rich sources include arugula, beets, spinach, celery, radishes, and lettuce, and smaller amounts are present in some grains and cured meats. However, there’s controversy over the nitrites and nitrates in cured and processed meats and their potential association with cancer and other conditions. Recent evidence suggests that in addition to other lifestyle factors, excessive amounts of salt and some preservatives found in meat and diets high in processed meats, could lead to poor health outcomes (5). Without question, vegetables and vegetable-sourced dietary nitrates should be part of your healthy diet.
4. Nitrates are not the only way that nitric oxide is produced in the body.
Dietary intake of nitrates is not the only source of nitric oxide production. Another source of nitric oxide is through the conversion of the amino acid L-arginine to L-citrulline. It’s for this reason that Isagenix created both AMPED™ NOx, which provides a highly concentrated source of dietary nitrates from beet root, red spinach, and celery leaf (along with other fruit and vegetable polyphenols that support nitric oxide production), as well as AMPED Power, which contains Nitrosigine®, a novel and more bioavailable source of L-arginine (6). When used together before a workout, these two nitric-oxide-supportive, pre-workout products give athletes the support for blood flow they need for higher-intensity training and greater endurance.
- Hyde ER, et al. Metagenomic analysis of nitrate-reducing bacteria in the oral cavity: implications for nitric oxide homeostasis. PLoS One. 2014;9(3):e88645.
- Clements WT, Lee SR, Bloomer RJ. Nitrate ingestion: a review of the health and physical performance effects. Nutrients. 2014;6(11):5224-64.
- Govoni M, Jansson EA, Weitzberg E, Lundberg JO. The increase in plasma nitrite after a dietary nitrate load is markedly attenuated by an antibacterial mouthwash. Nitric Oxide. 2008;19(4):333-7.
- Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(1):1-10.
- Bouvard V, et al. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol. 2015;16(16):1599-600.
- Komorowski J & Ojalvo SP. A Pharmacokinetic evaluation of the duration of effect of inositol-stabilized arginine silicate. Presented at the 2016 Experimental Biology Scientific Meeting, San Diego, CA, USA. 2-6 April 2016.