Rapha Condor JLT hosted a Q&A after a ride out event earlier this summer.
The questions came in thick a fast about all the menial things that I've heard time and time again. The topics of nutrition came up and some off the cuff comment about some riders seeing better affects by using gels with added nitrates.
I took that away and scratched my head.
Then at a recent cyclocross race one of the prizes for those lucky enough to stand on the podium was a bottle of 'Beet-It' beetroot juice (as well as the all important cash).
I tried it, it tasted like filth, really really soil-y. Not like the preserved acidic taste of beetroot often found sliced on your nans dinner table.
I wondered who could stand to drink this beetroot juice and just how worth it was to endure the taste versus improve performance.
And so here are some findings:
2007 & 2009 English Journal of Applied Physiology found a 10% decrease in oxygen consumption after taking 600mg of sodium nitrate (per day) for three days. The affects were found for athletes working at medium intensity e.g. not a criterium or cyclocross style of race
600mg is roughly 0.5litres of beetroot juice.
In 2010 the American Journal of Physiology reported that nitric oxide enhanced the efficiency of muscle contractions.
A double blind study of which the results can be found in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise found 0.5 liters of beetroot juice led to an improvement of 6% in the power generated in a trainer-simulated 16km time trial in a group of mid-level cyclists.
Though 6% sounds low, it roughly translates to 48 seconds - according to Tyler Hamilton's recent tell all book - that is roughly the improvement found when transfusing a pint of blood.
and the application:
There are no hard and fast protocols that have been set, so I've applied some of the research.
Considering beetroot juice tastes (to me) very foul. What else contains nitrates?
Nitrates are found in green leafy vegetables (spinach, chard, arugula, lettuce, celery) and beetroot.
They have been used for centuries as a preservative in meat sausages - hence why John Herety was amazed to see Russian riders in the 1980 Olympic Road Race stuffing themselves with salami.
The ingested nitrates are absorbed in the intestines, Nitrites are then partially converted to Nitric Oxide (NO) which is mainly responsible for the effects of nitrate on metabolic functions.
After eating food rich in Nitrates it takes 1.5hour to 3 hours to see a rise in nitrate levels in the body and affects will last up to 15 days.
Nitrates naturally contained in plants are preferred to synthetic products (sodium nitrate) as in vegetables there are antioxidants (vit C in particular) that are able to counteract the negative effects of nitrite in the stomach.
I'm unsure how much vegetables like celery and spinach contain, I can seem to find a definitive answer so I don't know how much one needs to eat to hit that 600mg level?
BUT: it worth noting that a high ingestion of nitrates can cause stomach upsets especially among vegetarians who tend to suffer from low stomach acidity and those with asthma also suffer from this too.
Note: Eating more 6g will kill you.
Don't like vegetables? A synthetic version is available. According to the SiS website: "To achieve the optimal performance boosting effects of nitrate, consume 2-3 gels daily for 3-5 days prior to your event. Given that the SiS GO Gels + Nitrate is to be consumed in the days leading up to your event, you should also ensure that you consume other carbohydrate, hydration and caffeine products of the SIS GO Range on race day in order to ensure maximal race day performance."
2-3 gels! yeh thats alot. Each gel contains 250mg.
So, I may have to stick with the beetroot juice after all.