Dietary nitrate supplementation improves exercise performance by reducing the oxygen cost of exercise and enhancing skeletal muscle function. However, the mechanisms underlying these effects are not well understood. The purpose of this study was to assess changes in skeletal muscle energy metabolism associated with exercise performance in a zebrafish model. Fish were exposed to sodium nitrate (60.7 mg/L, 303.5 mg/L, 606.9 mg/L), or control water, for 21 days and analyzed at intervals (5, 10, 20, 30, 40 cm/s) during a 2-h strenuous exercise test. We measured oxygen consumption during an exercise test and assessed muscle nitrate concentrations, gene expression, and the muscle metabolome before, during, and after exercise. Nitrate exposure reduced the oxygen cost of exercise and increased muscle nitrate concentrations at rest, which were reduced with increasing exercise duration. In skeletal muscle, nitrate treatment upregulated expression of genes central to nutrient sensing (mtor), redox signaling (nrf2a), and muscle differentiation (sox6). In rested muscle, nitrate treatment increased phosphocreatine (P = 0.002), creatine (P = 0.0005), ATP (P = 0.0008), ADP (P = 0.002), and AMP (P = 0.004) compared with rested-control muscle. Following the highest swimming speed, concentration of phosphocreatine (P = 8.0 × 10-5), creatine (P = 6.0 × 10-7), ATP (P = 2.0 × 10-6), ADP (P = 0.0002), and AMP (P = 0.004) decreased compared with rested nitrate muscle. Our data suggest nitrate exposure in zebrafish lowers the oxygen cost of exercise by changing the metabolic programming of muscle prior to exercise and increasing availability of energy-rich metabolites required for exercise.NEW & NOTEWORTHY We show that skeletal muscle nitrate concentration is higher with supplementation at rest and was lower in groups with increasing exercise duration in a zebrafish model. The higher availability of nitrate at rest is associated with upregulation of key nutrient-sensing genes and greater availability of energy-producing metabolites (i.e., ATP, phosphocreatine, glycolytic intermediates). Overall, nitrate supplementation may lower oxygen cost of exercise through improved fuel availability resulting from metabolic programming of muscle prior to exercise.
Keywords: energy metabolism; exercise performance; metabolomics; nitrate; skeletal muscle.