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New research links green vegetables to sport performance

Eating your greens could enhance sport performance, reports ScienceDaily

New research carried out by Frontiers in Physiology has identified potential links between eating your greens and improving your sport performance.

The research is all to do with nitrate supplementation. Nitrate is commonly found in leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, and is important for the functioning of the human body, especially during exercise.

Researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium conducted a study with 27 moderately trained participants. They were given nitrate supplements ahead of short but intense cycling sessions three times a week. It included workouts in normal oxygen conditions and hypoxia (low oxygen) conditions to assess differences in performance in different conditions.

The observations published in Frontiers in Physiology stated that after only five weeks, the muscle fibre composition changed with the enhanced nitrate intake when training in low-oxygen conditions.

Professor Peter Hespel, of the University of Leuven’s Athletic Performance Center, said: “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.”

This study is interesting for athletes participating in sports competitions that require energy production in low-oxygen conditions. Exercising at high altitude has, in fact, become a training strategy for many.

Intense exercise in such conditions requires high input of fast-oxidative muscle fibres to sustain the power. So, it’s possible that enhancing these muscle fibres through nutritional intake could boost performance in low-oxygen conditions.

Though conclusions for this area of research are not yet clear. Professor Hespel said: “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.”

He added: “It would be interesting to investigate whether addition of nitrate-rich vegetables to the normal daily sports diet of athletes could facilitate training-induced muscle fibre type transitions and maybe in the long term also exercise performance.”

With athletes frequently pushing the limits of their bodies and thriving for ever-greater performances, this is only the start of research into how athletes can improve their competitive edge through dietary supplements.

For some delicious recipes containing leafy greens, try our stir-fried curly kale, almonds, chorizo and poached egg (pictured above).

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Profile image of Liz Barrett Liz Barrett 220 Deputy Editor


220 deputy editor Liz Barrett started work on the magazine in 2007 as staff writer. Since then, she’s reported live from almost every major triathlon across the globe, including the Ironman World Championships, 70.3 Worlds, six ITU Worlds, Challenge Roth, the 2014 and 2022 Commonwealths, the London Olympics and the Rio Paralympics, to name but a few. Name a pro and chances are she’ll have interviewed them, so, unsurprisingly, she’s our go-to pro-athlete expert on the team. When not covering races, you’ll find her whipping words into finely-crafted shape for both the magazine and website.