The Scoop on Nitrate-Rich Foods

May 12, 2016

Performance Nutrition Specialist Lee Hyrkas offers his expertise on the benefits of dietary nitrates

A product that is becoming more and more popular with runners is beetroot juice. You may be wondering — what’s so special about a beet? Beets are a natural source of dietary nitrates. Dietary nitrates appear to have a beneficial effect for individuals participating in endurance sports (running, cycling, triathlons, rowing, etc.).

How it Works
Nitrates consumed from foods are converted to nitric oxide (NO) within the body. NO acts as a vasodilator, which enables blood and oxygen to be delivered more efficiently to our cells and muscle tissues. The increased delivery of blood and oxygen could potentially improve endurance and reduce fatigue during exercise. Studies have also revealed the benefits of NO on reducing blood pressure.

Nitrate-Rich Foods
Health-promoting sources of dietary nitrates include spinach, kale, beets, carrots, celery, lettuce, green beans, cabbage, arugula, radishes, kohlrabi, vegetable juice and collard greens. The nitrate content of these foods will vary based on the composition of the soil in which they are grown. Smoothies are an easy way to incorporate more of these foods daily. Try one of the simple fruit and vegetable smoothies below. Processed meats such as hot dogs, deli meat and sausage-type meats are also a source of dietary nitrates. However, individuals should avoid consuming large amounts of processed meats due to the potential for increased heart disease and cancer risk.

Beetroot Dosing
If you are interested in trying beetroot juice for a performance boost, current research suggests consuming ~16 oz. of beetroot juice ~2.5 hours prior to competition (16 oz. of beetroot juice provides ~400 mg of nitrates). However, if you are already consuming a diet high in nitrate-rich vegetables, you may see benefit from smaller amounts of beetroot juice (~8 oz.). Beet It® is a brand of beetroot products (juices and bars) that can be found at local grocery stores or health food stores. See if you can spot these products the next time you are shopping.

General Recommendation
If you are seeking a performance boost, begin to incorporate several servings of nitrate-rich vegetables daily. Vegetables are a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can also enhance your health and aid in recovery from exercise. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan is an excellent way to increase your consumption of dietary nitrates. The DASH eating plan consists of consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, beans, nuts, whole grains, lean meats and seafood. The DASH eating plan recommends ~4-5 servings of fruit along with ~4-5 servings of vegetables daily, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. More information on the DASH eating plan can be found online.

Research is ongoing to determine the optimal dosage of dietary nitrates. If you are interested in reading more about the research behind dietary nitrates, I encourage you to visit the Gatorade Sport Science Institute website and read the article titled Dietary Nitrate: The New Magic Bullet?

Smoothie Recipes

Super Mixed Berry Smoothie
• 1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
• 1/2 scoop vanilla whey protein
• 1/4 cup dry oatmeal
• 1-2 cups baby spinach
• 1/2 cup frozen cherries
• 1/2 cup mixed berries
• 4-6 oz. water 
• Dash of cinnamon

• Place ingredients into a blender.
• Add 2-4 ice cubes for a thicker smoothie.
• Blend until desired consistency.

Purple Power Smoothie
• 1 cup blueberry Kefir or yogurt
• 1/2 frozen banana
• 3/4 cup blueberries
• 1/4 – 1/2 can sliced beets, drained and rinsed
• 1 cup baby spinach

• Place ingredients into a blender.
• Add ~2-4 oz. water for a thinner shake.
• Blend until desired consistency.

Lee Hyrkas is a registered dietitian and performance nutrition specialist at Bellin Health. Lee’s goal is to assist every athlete and active individual in maximizing his or her performance and health. To schedule a one-on-one assessment, please contact Lee at or (920) 430-4728.

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