Do beets enhance endurance performance? Is body mass index really an effective measure of ideal weight and overall health? Personalized training plans are preferable to mass-produced plans because the advice is individualized; should the same hold true for implementing genetic testing to specialize nutrition advice? The answers to these questions were just a few of the topics highlighted at the 2014 Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo at the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here's an update with some food for thought.
Eat Your Beets
Beets and arugula are powerful nitrate-rich foods that can enhance both athletic performance and your overall health. These vegetables are rich sources of dietary nitrate, a potent food compound that converts into nitric oxide (NO), a gas that easily penetrates cell tissues 90 minutes after consumption. It signals blood vessels to dilate (relax), which improves blood flow. For runners, improved blood flow enables more oxygen to get to the muscles.
Research suggests pre-exercise beets or beet juice can enhance performance. That's why commercial sports supplements such as BeetIt or BeetElite are gaining in popularity among competitive runners. You can even buy nitric oxide test strips to determine if you are "workout ready."
You might remember having been warned to stay away from dietary nitrates, particularly the sodium nitrate in processed meats (such as bacon, hot dogs and ham) added to extend the meats' shelf life and prevent deadly botulism poisoning. Current research indicates nitrates (even in high doses) are not carcinogenic.
The preferred food sources of nitrates include vegetables, specifically beets, arugula, celery, lettuce, kale, spinach, collards, Swiss chard and bok choy. These offer more than 250 mg nitrates per 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving. Veggies low in nitrates include broccoli, green beans, tomato, sweet potatoes and peas.
The average American consumes 40 to 100 mg nitrates a day, less than the 300 to 500 mg dose recommended to improve performance. Yet, athletes can easily consume that dose with an average spinach salad topped with a beet or two.