Popeye was right! Eating spinach can really help you perform better at sports
Eating nitrate-rich vegetables like spinach may enhance sports performance, particularly in low oxygen conditions such as high altitudes, a new study has claimed.
Researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium carried out the study with 27 moderately trained participants.
They were given nitrate supplements ahead of Sprint Interval Training (SIT), which took the form of short but intense cycling sessions three times a week.
Nitrate is commonly found in diets rich in leafy green foods like spinach and is important for the functioning of the human body, especially during exercising.
To assess differences in performance in different conditions, the study included workouts in normal oxygen conditions and in hypoxia conditions, which are low oxygen levels such as those found in high altitudes.
The researchers observed that after only five weeks, the muscle fibre 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, ie oral nitrate intake, can impact on training-induced changes in muscle fibre composition,” said Professor Peter Hespel from the Athletic Performance Centre at the University of Leuven.
For athletes participating in sports competitions which require energy production in conditions with limited amounts of oxygen, this study is particularly interesting, researchers said.
In fact, exercising at high altitudes has become a training strategy for many athletes, albeit the uncertainties about such methods.
In these conditions, performing intense workouts requires high input of fast-oxidative muscle fibres to sustain the power. Enhancing these muscle fibre types through nutritional intake could very well boost the performance in this type of events.
“Whether this increase in fast-oxidative muscle fibres eventually can also enhance exercise performance remains to be established,” said Hespel.
“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,” said Hespel.
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