Dietary nitrate improves muscle but not cerebral oxygenation status during exercise in hypoxia

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Sep 1;113(5):736-45. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01253.2011. Epub 2012 Jul 5.


Exercise tolerance is impaired in hypoxia, and it has recently been shown that dietary nitrate supplementation can reduce the oxygen (O(2)) cost of muscle contractions. Therefore, we investigated the effect of dietary nitrate supplementation on arterial, muscle, and cerebral oxygenation status, symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS), and exercise tolerance at simulated 5,000 m altitude. Fifteen young, healthy volunteers participated in three experimental sessions according to a crossover study design. From 6 days prior to each session, subjects received either beetroot (BR) juice delivering 0.07 mmol nitrate/kg body wt/day or a control drink (CON). One session was in normoxia with CON (NOR(CON)); the two other sessions were in hypoxia (11% O(2)), with either CON (HYP(CON)) or BR (HYP(BR)). Subjects first cycled for 20 min at 45% of peak O(2) consumption (VO(2)peak; EX(45%)) and thereafter, performed a maximal incremental exercise test (EX(max)). Whole-body VO(2), arterial O(2) saturation (%SpO(2)) via pulsoximetry, and tissue oxygenation index of both muscle (TOI(M)) and cerebral (TOI(C)) tissue by near-infrared spectroscopy were measured. Hypoxia per se substantially reduced VO(2)peak, %SpO(2), TOI(M), and TOI(C) (NOR(CON) vs. HYP(CON), P < 0.05). Compared with HYP(CON), VO(2) at rest and during EX(45%) was lower in HYP(BR) (P < 0.05), whereas %SpO(2) was higher (P < 0.05). TOI(M) was ~4-5% higher in HYP(BR) than in HYP(CON) both at rest and during EX(45%) and EX(max) (P < 0.05). TOI(C) as well as the incidence of AMS symptoms were similar between HYP(CON) and HYP(BR) at any time. Hypoxia reduced time to exhaustion in EX(max) by 36% (P < 0.05), but this ergolytic effect was partly negated by BR (+5%, P < 0.05). Short-term dietary nitrate supplementation improves arterial and muscle oxygenation status but not cerebral oxygenation status during exercise in severe hypoxia. This is associated with improved exercise tolerance against the background of a similar incidence of AMS.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Tolerance / drug effects
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / diet therapy
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Nitrates / administration & dosage*
  • Nitrates / blood
  • Oxygen Consumption / drug effects
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange / drug effects
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange / physiology
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Young Adult


  • Nitrates