Nitrates Boost Energy, Muscle Performance and Fat Loss
Molecular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is absolutely necessary to perform any kind of exercise in the gym, whether it’s lifting weights or cardiovascular work. ATP donates the energy stored within its high-energy phosphate bonds to processes such as muscular contraction, making it possible to exercise. So obviously, the more molecular energy you have in the form of ATP, the better you’re going to perform in the gym— facilitating muscle growth and fat loss.
Recent research has revealed the surprising ability of the molecule nitrite, which is synthesized from dietary nitrates, to increase ATP production considerably. While it has been known for some time that nitrite can be converted in the body into nitric oxide, which can also trigger ATP production, this recently acquired scientific insight into nitrite function demonstrates that nitrite increases ATP production in a unique way that is more productive than nitric oxide— potentially representing a potently novel way to increase energy levels that improve overall muscle performance while also enabling fat loss.
More Fat-burning Mitochondria
A recent study by Mo et al. highlights nitrite’s capability to increase ATP production by causing the body to believe its energy levels are depleted, even when sufficient energy is on hand. Nitrite’s ability to mimic a low energy status subsequently activates the enzyme AMPK, which normally functions as the cell’s energy regulator that is activated when cellular energy is actually deficient. Nevertheless, when AMPK is activated by nitrite or low energy, it turns on many different energy-producing processes that recharge the cell’s energy status. One of the more effective ways that AMPK increases energy production is by stimulating the production of new mitochondria within the cell. Since mitochondria directly produce ATP in large part by burning fat, increased mitochondria generate greater energy, thus leading to enhanced muscular function as well as a superior capacity to burn body fat.
Interestingly, this study also confirmed that nitrite not only increased mitochondria quantity but it also produced mitochondria that produced ATP more efficiently. Although many of the molecular details concerning this increased mitochondrial efficiency could not be immediately explained, another study by Larsen et al. did uncover some of the details. In this study, they showed that nitrite induced more efficient mitochondria by suppressing the amount of the uncoupling protein-3 (UCP-3) within the mitochondria. UCP-3 is a protein that separates or uncouples the conversion of macronutrients into ATP. With the lower amount of UCP-3, a greater percentage of macronutrient is converted into ATP, thus increasing muscle cell energy levels and potentially improving exercise proficiency.
Beetroot for Greater Muscle Power and Endurance
Nitrate consumed in the diet is rapidly converted into nitrite by bacteria within the mouth. Nitrite, as I previously mentioned, can play a beneficial role in energy (ATP) production while also enhancing cardiovascular physiology, improving exercise performance. Moreover, nitrite can be converted to nitric oxide, which also has a positive influence on exercise endurance by triggering vasodilation, which increases blood flow. So in order to increase levels of nitrite and nitric oxide, one must consume a fair amount of nitrates. Beetroot is loaded in nitrates that have been shown to increase blood levels of both nitric oxide and nitrite. Although many of the ergogenic effects associated with beetroot have been attributed to the high levels of nitric oxide associated with beetroot consumption, the increased nitrite levels from beetroot use also have a positive influence on exercise performance. Moreover, since nitric oxide and nitrite enhance exercise performance by activating completely different biochemical pathways, these two complementary compounds have the capacity to synergistically enhance each other.
The powerful capability provided by beetroot has been demonstrated in quite a few studies looking into the positive influence of beetroot on exercise. It has been shown that consuming beetroot juice could significantly increase exercise intensity. Endurance athletes also saw similar improvements after supplementing with beetroot, showing significant improvements in cycling time and power output.
In closing, nitrates represent a forceful way to enhance exercise performance by positively influencing physiological effects like blood flow, while also increasing multiple biochemical pathways that increase cellular energy (ATP). Therefore, nitrates represent a viable performance-enhancing supplement for increasing muscle size while also markedly improving cardiovascular endurance.
About the Author
For most of Michael Rudolph’s career he has been engrossed in the exercise world as either an athlete (he played college football at Hofstra University), personal trainer or as a Research Scientist (he earned a B.Sc. in Exercise Science at Hofstra University and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Stony Brook University). After earning his Ph.D., Michael investigated the molecular biology of exercise as a fellow at Harvard Medical School and Columbia University for over eight years. That research contributed seminally to understanding the function of the incredibly important cellular energy sensor AMPK— leading to numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals including the journal Nature. Michael is currently a scientist working at the New York Structural Biology Center doing contract work for the Department of Defense on a project involving national security.
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