Nitric oxide (NO) plays a plethora of important roles in the human body. Insufficient production of NO (for example, during older age and in various disease conditions) can adversely impact health and physical performance. In addition to its endogenous production through the oxidation of l-arginine, NO can be formed nonenzymatically via the reduction of nitrate and nitrite, and the storage of these anions can be augmented by the consumption of nitrate-rich foodstuffs such as green leafy vegetables. Recent studies indicate that dietary nitrate supplementation, administered most commonly in the form of beetroot juice, can ( a) improve muscle efficiency by reducing the O2 cost of submaximal exercise and thereby improve endurance exercise performance and ( b) enhance skeletal muscle contractile function and thereby improve muscle power and sprint exercise performance. This review describes the physiological mechanisms potentially responsible for these effects, outlines the circumstances in which ergogenic effects are most likely to be evident, and discusses the effects of dietary nitrate supplementation on physical performance in a range of human populations.
Keywords: exercise; metabolism; muscle; nitric oxide; nutrition; physiology.