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Salads for Sport Performance

Nitrates May Benefit Muscle Fiber Composition in Sprinters 

Most people don’t think salad when they think fueling for exercise, but there may be good reason to go green before a workout, finds a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology

Twenty-seven male Belgian university students completed a 5-week sprint interval cycling program. One-third of participants exercised in normal oxygen conditions and received a placebo supplement. All other participants trained in low oxygen conditions (similar to high-altitude), a practice thought to boost endurance. Eight of those riders received a placebo while nine received a nitrate supplement. 

Researchers measured cyclists’ muscle fibers composition before and after the program. There are two general types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch (type I, good for endurance) and fast-twitch (type II, good for sprinting). Further, there are type IIa and type IIx; type IIa are more efficient for exercise. After just five weeks of training, riders in the low-oxygen group receiving nitrates saw favorable changes in muscle fiber composition—a jump from 45% to 56% for type IIa fibers, a result that could very well boost performance in sprint events. 

Don’t get too excited, as this is just preliminary research using supplemental nitrates. Study author Professor Peter Hespel suggests in a press release to next investigate if eating nitrate-rich vegetables can also enable changes in muscle fibers. In the meantime, there are plenty of good reasons to add extra salad greens to your plate—even if you’re not a serious athlete. The nitrates found in leafy greens might help reduce risk of glaucoma and green vegetables are among the best sources of vitamin K you can eat. 

Try our Apple Cider Farro Chopped Salad for a dose of leafy greens plus whole grains for lasting energy. 

BONUS: Drinking two cups of beet juice helped male cyclists improve endurance, enabling them to ride a minute and a half longer at high intensity.

Published March 2017

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