When Mom tells you to eat your spinach, you might want to listen. In a small study conducted at a university in Belgium, researchers determined that nitrates might help boost performance during certain kinds of athletic training. Nitrates are found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and parsley. Cabbage, beets and collard greens are also good sources of the nutrient.
The team put study participants through cycling sessions three times a week, using a method called spring interval training that combines short bursts of high-intensity exercise coupled with periods of rest in between. The workouts included exposure to normal oxygen levels as well as low-oxygen levels such as those found at high altitudes.
Before exercising, participants received either a nitrate supplement or a placebo. Among those who received the supplement, certain muscle fiber compositions changed — ossibly leading to increased endurance, the team noted. The benefits were especially evident during low-oxygen training sessions.
In results published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, the researchers called the findings “particularly interesting” for athletes who work out at high altitudes or who play sports in limited-oxygen environments.
The researchers hope to investigate whether adding nitrate-rich vegetables to athletes’ daily diets can achieve similar results. But the team cautioned against high-dose nitrate intake combined with intense training sessions until safety concerns can be fully addressed.
Maybe one day, the only performance-enhancing substance athletes will seek to ingest will be a bowlful of fresh spinach.