News | 22 February 2019

Beetroot juice is better for footballers than for cyclists

Nitrate, which is found in beetroot juice, for example, has a positive effect on the performance of trained athletes who primarily require short bursts of energy, such as footballers. For endurance athletes, such as cyclists, nitrate appears to have very little to no effect. This is shown in research conducted at Maastricht University and Maastricht UMC+ under the supervision of Dr Lex Verdijk and Prof. Luc van Loon. Jean Nyakayiru was recently awarded his PhD on the basis of this research.

[image1:medium:rightThe performance-enhancing effects of nitrate in recreational athletes have been researched before, but hard evidence of its effects in highly trained athletes has not been available until now. Maastricht researchers from the Department of Human Biology studied what happens to nitrate in the body and looked at its effects on the performance of highly trained football players and highly trained cyclists.

Nitrate is converted into nitrite in the body and then into nitric oxide (NO). This chemical leads to an increase in circulation in the muscles and makes the muscle contractions more efficient, among other things. The effects of this seem especially positive for athletes whose movements require short bursts of energy, such as footballers. By taking 800 milligrams of nitrate per day for six days, their sprinting ability improved by 3.4 percent. For highly trained endurance athletes, very little to none of this effect can be seen, probably because for these athletes the supply of oxygen to the muscles is optimised. Nitrate is thought to improve athletic performance when the muscles lack oxygen, as is the case with high intensity, intermittent-type exercise.

Blood pressure
The researchers also examined the possible positive effects of nitrate on health and found that nitrate supplementation leads to a significant reduction in blood pressure. Further research is needed to explain how this works and to determine whether taking nitrate may be an effective option in the treatment of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, nitrate from natural sources such as beetroot, spinach and arugula are shown to have a greater effect on blood pressure than taking nitrate salts.

The Maastricht PhD research led to publications in the scientific journal Nutrients and in the Journal of Nutrition. The title of the dissertation on which Jean Nyakayiru recently received his PhD is Ergogenic effects of dietary nitrate.