Fueling correctly for endurance running is critical for success, avoiding injury, and maintaining overall health. Sugar and many foods that metabolize into sugar derail runners. Unfortunately, many sports supplements contain added sugars that are detrimental to endurance.
One of many significant factors in determining an endurance runner’s performance is oxygen conservation and the amount of oxygen they can take in. It’s also a measure of a runner’s lactate threshold; however, oxygen bioavailability and a runner’s workload capabilities are key success factors to building endurance running.
Unlocking nitrate and nitric oxide for improved endurance running
Dietary nitrate helps the body produce nitric oxide, a key component for athletic performance and overall health. Though nitric oxide is produced endogenously, factors like age and diet cause a natural decline. In fact, not having enough nitric oxide in the body can lead to poor health and performance, so nitrate supplementation is important for maintaining nitric oxide in the body.
Nitric oxide is more commonly discussed and understood in the sports community. But with the vast research available, it’s important for endurance runners of all levels, from beginner to professional, to fully understand the power of nitrate supplementation for improved performance.
Research shows that the uptake of nitrate through the foods we eat is reduced to nitrite and then nitric oxide when it first mixes with bacteria on the back of the tongue. Nitric oxide in the small intestine supports the widening of blood vessels, which help move oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Vasodilation is another word for this occurrence. Vasodilation is a natural response our body has when it senses a low oxygen supply. The body’s response to a nitrate uptake helps runners lower their need for required oxygen, allowing them to push longer -- 16% longer, according to a study from Exeter’s School of Sport and Health Sciences. High nitrate sources are red spinach and beet juice.
Part of the recommended program for endurance training is to include sprinting sessions. Studies show a drastic reduction in cognitive function. However, sprinters supplemented with nitrate experienced improved cognitive function and performance, helping runners stay mentally stronger for longer.
Overall maintaining high nitric oxide levels is vital to building running endurance.
How much nitrate should an endurance runner consume?
The recommended amount of nitrate for runners is 400 mg. Nitrate supplementation peaks after 2-3 hours, but the body also keeps stores of nitrate and nitrite.
There are short-term and long-term benefits of adding nitrate to your pre-workout regime. Both are important for building up the body’s athletic capabilities to run long distances and in challenging environments.
Short-term benefits of nitrate
Short-term nitrate consumption provides punctuated performance improvements when taken 90 minutes before a run. This will predictably decline after some time, peaking at about 3 hours after ingestion. Many studies have shown the advantages of short-term nitrate supplementation. For example, single-dose nitrate can help runners in higher altitudes or environments where less oxygen is available.
Long-term benefits of nitrate
Runners that leverage ongoing additions of dietary nitrate, especially before workouts, enhance performance by elevating nitric oxide levels. Vasodilation increases, and nutrient and oxygen flow are improved. When this happens, a more consistent supply of bioavailable nitrite is ready for use in converting to nitric oxide, which helps drive down the need for oxygen under extreme pressure.
Both long-term and short-term benefits of dietary nitrate from food sources like red spinach and beet juice offer endurance runners t sustained stamina when you need it most.
Lessons from research on nitrate and endurance running
Numerous studies have proven the efficacy and necessity of nitrate supplementation for endurance runners when it comes to stamina and oxygen. Even the federal government has published findings on dietary nitrate outcomes on elite runners via the government clinical trials website. Below is an overview of the highlighted results from major studies on nitrate supplementation and running:
- Nitrate supplementation improves 5k time trial
- Nitrate helps improve endurance by 16%
- Nitrate supplementation improves time-trial performance for recreationally trained runners
- Nitrate increases muscle power
- Nitrate improves muscle oxygen saturation levels
- Nitrate improves time to exhaustion
- Dietary nitrate reduces the oxygen cost of walking and running
- Nitrate reduces time to task failure in athletes
- Nitrate for runners improved cognitive strength and endurance
- Single-dose nitrate supplementation helped runners in high elevations
- Nitrate increases time to exhaustion for long distances
- Nitrate helps increase nitric oxide, which lowers required oxygen
- Nitrate improves blood flow and nutrient cycling for runners
- Nitrate combined with antioxidants helps accelerate recovery time
- Nitrate helps workout volume increase by 3.5%
Nitrate rich foods every endurance runner should eat
The key to maintaining relaxed blood vessels and optimal oxygen usage is daily dietary inclusion of nitrate-rich foods. Here’s a quick list of vegetables that endurance runners should keep on hand.
- Beetroot & Beet Greens
- Red Spinach
- Bok Choy
- Swiss Chard
- Green Spinach
- Mustard Greens
- Tart Cherry
- Swiss Chard
- Citrus Fruits
Red spinach for runners
While these vegetables improve nitric oxide production and endurance, one stands out a king amongst the rest. Red spinach, more accurately called amaranth, contains nearly five times the naturally occurring nitrate of beets.
Endurance runners are beginning to discover the power of amaranth to increase athletic performance and endurance. For the last 6,000 years or more, amaranth has been cultivated in Central America. Today amaranth is still grown in the Americas, and science has proven its value to health and sports performance for improving endurance.
Red spinach is packed with nitrate, even more so than beets. Many studies have found that the nitrate levels in amaranth enhance muscle efficiency, fatigue resistance, and performance, providing increased energy levels.
Building endurance running is supported by long and short-term intake of nitrate-rich red spinach. When looking for that next endurance boost, make sure it comes with a guaranteed 400 mg of nitrate and clean, pure plant-based ingredients with no additions like sugars, GMO, or natural flavors. Increase stamina, and let red spinach help you tackle those extra miles.
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Hoon, M. W., Johnson, N. A., Chapman, P. G., & Burke, L. M. (2013). The effect of nitrate supplementation on exercise performance in healthy individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 23(5), 522–532. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.23.5.522
Santana, J., Madureira, D., de França, E., Rossi, F., Rodrigues, B., Fukushima, A., Billaut, F., Lira, F., & Caperuto, E. (2019). Nitrate Supplementation Combined with a Running Training Program Improved Time-Trial Performance in Recreationally Trained Runners. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 7(5), 120. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7050120
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