Nitric Oxide Part 1

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

Vasodilation is the widening of blood vessels at the beginning of and during exercise. Vasodilation allows more O2 into the working muscles and more CO2 outflow into the bloodstream and on through to the lungs for exhalation. Vasodilation is very important for exercise performance – more O2 = better performance; more CO2 out = better performance. Many biochemical factors help regulate how ‘open’ the vasculature becomes, and these factors work together to dilate arterioles feeding the muscle (1).

One factor that contributes to the regulation of the vasculature is nitric oxide, found in abundance in many vegetables*. There is little doubt that additional nitrate supplementation can have physiological effects that benefit exercise performance (2).

Nitric oxide has also been shown to (3,4):

  • Improve economy/efficiency

  • Increase fatty acid oxidation

  • Angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation)

  • Mitochondrial biogenesis (new mitochondria formation)

  • Pulmonary circulation

Beetroot juice contains large amounts of nitrate and has been widely studied because it’s commercially available and provides a safe, cost-effective and reliable source of nitrate (5). Type “beetroot juice” in Amazon, and 201 products show up!

But beetroot is not the only vegetable you can consume to improve performance. In fact, arugula has nearly twice the nitrate content of beets (4). Top vegetables in terms of their nitrate content are:

  1. Arugula

  2. Spinach

  3. Lettuce

  4. Radish

  5. Beetroot

Type in “arugula juice” at Amazon, and you’ll find zero results.

Questions abound:

  • What kind of athlete/event does nitrate consumption work for?

  • How much should an athlete consume and how long before training/competition for maximum effectiveness?

  • Are all beetroot products good or can I make my own juice?

  • Can I just eat vegetables for my nitrate consumption?

Answers coming in parts 2 & 3…

*Via the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway


  1. Whyte J, Laughlin, MH. The effects of acute and chronic exercise on the vasculature. Acta Physiologica 199: 441–450, 2010.

  2. Jones, Andrew M. "Influence of dietary nitrate on the physiological determinants of exercise performance: a critical review." Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 39.9 (2014): 1019-1028.

  3. Perez-Schindler, Joaquin, et al. "Nutritional strategies to support concurrent training." European journal of sport science 15.1 (2015): 41-52.

  4. Lidder, Satnam, and Andrew J. Webb. "Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate‐nitrite‐nitric oxide pathway." British journal of clinical pharmacology 75.3 (2013): 677-696.

  5. Close, Graeme L., et al. "New strategies in sport nutrition to increase exercise performance." Free Radical Biology and Medicine 98 (2016): 144-158.

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