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Eating Greens Could Enhance Sport Performance

October 10, 2016

It seems that Popeye may have been on to something! Nitrate supplementation, in conjunction with sprint interval training in low oxygen conditions, could enhance sport performance, a study has found. Researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium carried out a study with 27 moderately trained participants. These were given nitrate supplements ahead of sprint interval training, which took the form of short but intense cycling sessions three times a week.

Nitrate, found in diets rich in leafy green foods such as spinach, is important for the functioning of the human body, especially during exercising.

To assess differences in performance under various conditions, the study participants worked out in normal oxygen level conditions as well as in hypoxia or low oxygen level conditions, such as those found in high altitudes.

The observations, published in Frontiers in Physiology last month, were unexpected: after only five weeks, the muscle fiber composition changed with the enhanced nitrate intake when training in low oxygen conditions.

"This is probably the first study to demonstrate that a simple nutritional supplementation strategy, in this case with oral nitrate, can impact training-induced changes in muscle fiber composition," stated Professor Peter Hespel from the Athletic Performance Center at the University of Leuven.

For athletes participating in sports competitions requiring energy production in conditions with limited amounts of oxygen, this study is particularly interesting. In these conditions, performing intense workouts requires high input of fast-oxidative muscle fibers to sustain the power. Enhancing these muscle fiber types through nutritional intake could very well boost the performance in this type of events.

In times where athletes push the limits of their bodies and strive for greater performances, this may signal the start of research into how athletes can improve their competitive edge through dietary supplements. Looking to the future, Professor Hespel says, “It would now be interesting to investigate whether the addition of nitrate-rich vegetables to the normal daily sports diet of athletes could facilitate training-induced muscle fiber type transitions and maybe in the long term also exercise performance."

Until this is proven, he cautions that consistent nitrate intake in conjunction with training must not be recommended until the s