Dietary Nitrates And Nitrites: Harmful? Helpful? Or Paradox?
Muscular Development|August 2021
“Eat your veggies, they’re good for you!” is a commonly heard mantra at dinner tables everywhere. We, especially health-conscious bodybuilders, know that veggies are good for our bodies and minds. Nevertheless, we may not know all the reasons why. It may just be that veggies provide necessary vitamins and minerals for metabolism and antioxidant protection. It may be that they contain colon healthy fiber to make you regular. Recent evidence suggests that it may not be the vitamins or fiber that bodybuilders and athletes should be focusing on. Green leafy veggies, and the roots of the same, are rich in inorganic nitrate, which has been getting more scientific press as of late.
By Victor R. Prisk, M.D.

Multiple epidemiological studies have demonstrated that diets rich in greens are healthy for your cardiovascular system and blood pressure. 1 One of the hypotheses to explain this benefit is that the green leafy vegetables are rich in inorganic nitrate, which acts as a substrate for synthesis of blood flow, boosting nitric oxide (NO). Data supports that NO is a potent booster of blood flow and cardiovascular function, as you probably already know from all of the “pump” and “vascularity” producing pre-workout “NO” supplements available to you. If you have ever tried a NO supplement, you know firsthand that they really do work.

Beyond the arginine-containing NO supplements, there is increasingly new data that supports the use of more direct sources of nitrogen such as nitrate as an donor for NO. Nitrate-rich veggies include spinach, lettuce, celery and beetroot. Dietary inorganic nitrate in fruits and veggies can be reduced to nitrite and nitric oxide. Some have even tried to support the use of salts of nitrates and nitrites like “saltpeter” or potassium nitrate. However, a word of caution is necessary here. Although dietary nitrate is relatively safe and non-toxic, nitrite is not so safe. In fact, the toxicity of nitrite measured as its LD 50 (meaning 50% of people will die at this dose) is 100-200 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight; comparable to that of cyanide 4 ! Of note, the dose of nitrate that seems to improve performance is on the order of 300-500 milligrams, much lower than any toxic levels of nitrite. As an example, 100 grams of spinach may supply more than 200- 300 milligrams of dietary nitrate.

Effects on Metabolic Function

Nitric oxide has many effects on the metabolic function of blood vessels and muscle. Recent studies have suggested that nitrate supplementation might alter metabolic and vascular control of the larger, force-producing type II (fast-twitch) myofibers that bodybuilders strive to build. 2,3 In mice, increases in dietary nitrate content significantly increase the rate of contractile force development in fast-twitch muscle fibers. 3 However, only recently have we found out that this may also occur in humans.

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