Looking to add speed and distance to your next run may require a run over to your grocery store’s vegetable aisle, a new study claims. According to research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, a diet consisting of nitrate-rich foods, including vegetables such as leafy greens and beets, helps boost blood flow and increase muscle function, which leads to better athletic performance. It also showed that increased nitrate intake can help lower blood pressure and even improve brain function.

“Nitrates increase oxygen efficiency so that more ATP (energy) is produced per oxygen consumed,” says Dr. John Ivy, an exercise physiologist and president of HumanN‘s Science Advisory Board. “It also increases work efficiency so that less ATP is used per unit of work performed. Third, it causes vasodilation so that there is better blood perfusion of the muscles for better distribution of oxygen and nutrients, and better removal of metabolic waste products. Finally, nitrates increase muscle contractility of the fast-twitch fibers producing greater maximal power.”

Vegetables, including beets and leafy greens such as spinach and kale are a good source, since they acquire nitrates and nitrites through soil.

Ivy says for maximum benefit, preload on leafy greens a few hours before your workout, the time frame can range depending on how you consume them.

“To consume the amount of nitrate required to improve performance, would require one to eat about 300 to 350 grams of high-nitrate green vegetables about three to four hours before exercising,” he says. “If you’re juicing, the time could be reduced to 2.5 hours before [your workout].

And for those nitric oxide supplements you take for that pre-workout pump, Ivy says certain supps can be used a replacement for convenience if carrying a bag of kale isn’t a viable option before workouts.

“If the supplement contains the right amount of nitrate and/or nitrite, then yes, it will help an individual or athlete to have a higher-quality workout,” Ivy says.

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