The New Performance Supplements - Spinach and Beets

It’s a not-so-well-kept secret in endurance sports that more and more elite athletes are loading up on nitrate-rich foods like spinach and beets to improve performance.

A recently released study from the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden looked at the effect of supplemental nitrate on muscular force production in mice to get a better understanding of what’s going on. Researchers administered a dose equivalent to 200-300 grams of spinach or 3 to 4 beetroots in humans and tested force output.

…results show that fast-twitch muscle of Nitrate mice can be activated at a lower frequency to achieve the same force output, which would reduce the effort required for a given task. An additional benefit is that for a given torque or force output, the number of motor units needed to be recruited will be reduced without any increase in the time taken to achieve the target force.

This is extremely cool as beets and spinach are already loaded with nutrition for good health, so consuming greater amounts is a good thing. Now we know can improve our health and performance at the same time. As the researchers noted, the quantities we’re talking about can realistically be included in a healthy diet.

This is also interesting from a nutritional perspective since several leafy green vegetables are high in inorganic nitrate and the amount of nitrate used in the present study can be easily achieved by adopting a ‘green’ diet.

Now I know some readers will be thinking what I did at the first mention of beets — yuk! I can’t think of anything I found more repulsive as a child than canned beets. The thought still sends chills down my spine.

The good news is that beets don’t have to taste like that. They can be boiled, roasted, baked, steamed, microwaved, and even eaten raw. My usual route is to add raw beet, and spinach, to my breakfast smoothie.

Here’s my current favorite recipe.

  • 1 cup OJ
  • Large handful of baby spinach (about 40 grams)
  • 1/2 large beetroot
  • 4 frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/3 cup crushed ice
  • 1 scoop whey protein (yields approx. 20 grams protein)

Chop the beet into smaller pieces and blend it and the spinach OJ on high to liquify as much as possible, then blend in the frozen ingredients, and finally mix in the whey protein on the slowest setting to avoid introducing excess air into the smoothie. If your blender lacks adjustable speeds, simply length or shorten the blending times to get the desired effect.

As for taste, Chocolate-flavored protein powder works well, although lately I’ve been using strawberry-flavored protein and it gives a nice, lighter overall flavor.

Now that you have at least one easy way to eat your beets and spinach, give it a try and let me know what you think in terms of taste and performance benefits. Most people will need to increase consumption of nitrate-rich foods for at least 3 to 7 days to begin seeing and feeling a benefit, so stick with it.

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