Foods rich in nitrate have hit the headlines recently due to their potential health and performance benefits. Nitrate-rich beetroot juice is a prime example of this and has been shown to improve the functioning of the vascular system and enhance endurance performance in various events including running and cycling. Pomegranate extract is another food ingredient rich in nitrate – could this have similar performance and health benefits to beetroot juice?
In a recent study the effects of the intake of pomegranate extract 30 minutes before exercise on vascular function and exercise performance in 19 physically active adults. After the intake of pomegranate extract or placebo they completed three running sessions at different intensities (90%, 100% and 110% maximum oxygen consumption) until exhaustion. Vascular measurements (blood flow and blood vessel diameter) were taken before and after each run.
Pomegranate extract was found to increase the amount of time the adults could run for at 90% and 100% intensities. Vessel diameter and blood flow were also enhanced following pomegranate extract intake.
This study provides further evidence that the intake of nitrate before training or competition may enhance exercise performance, through improvements in vascular function. Pomegranate extract therefore serves as an alternative to beetroot juice. Currently, the intake of a 5-6 mmol of nitrate at ~3 hours before exercise appears to be optimal.
Increasing daily intake of dietary nitrate has also been shown to improve performance and vascular health (lowering blood pressure). Whilst endurance athletes may wish to experiment with the intake of nitrate products (beetroot juice / pomegranate extract) before exercise, other sports people and recreational exercisers should first prioritise increasing daily intake. Other excellent sources of nitrate include green leafy vegetables, spinach, rocket, lettuce, celery and cress.