Foods high in nitrates are natural pre-workouts.

Foods high in nitrates, such as beets, lettuce, arugula, spinach, and celery act as natural pre-workout supplements. They improve athletic performance, as they increase oxygen supply to the muscles!

What are nitrates?

Nitrates are compounds that are naturally present in food. When we consume foods rich in nitrates, the human body transforms them in nitrites.

Nitrites can be either healthful or harmful:

  • nitric oxide is the “good” nitrites (from vegetables and fruits)
  • nitrosamines are the “bad” nitrides (from cured meat)

Which nitrates are bad for you?

Certainly, nitrates from processed meats are pretty bad for you. They turn into carcinogenic compounds. They’re added to meat for its preservation. Nitrites in meat turn into nitrosamines, which are powerful carcinogens.

So, it’s better for your health to avoid consuming cured meat, such as hot dogs or bacon. In fact, the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization classifies processed meat as carcinogen to humans.[1]

Furthermore, according to the National Cancer Institute, cooking meat causes the formation of carcinogenic chemicals, known as HCAs and PAHs. Pan-frying or grilling of beef, pork, fish, or poultry may cause these dangerous compounds.[2]

On the contrary, nitrates from vegetables are beneficial. Antioxidants in plants inhibit nitrosamine formation.[3]

For instance, vitamin C may prevent the formation of the dangerous nitrosamines. Vitamin C is only abundant in fruits and vegetables. Orange, lemon, grapefruit, cauliflower, broccoli, and peppers are only a few foods high in vitamin C.

Health benefits of eating foods high in nitrates

On the other hand, consuming plant-based foods high in nitrates have many health benefits. First, they can increase blood and oxygen delivery to tissues.

Moreover, foods high in nitrates may be beneficial on stroke, myocardial infarction, or high blood pressure.

Actually, foods high in nitrates play an important role in physiological activity. In fact, foods high in nitrates may help the body supply blood and oxygen to the muscles more effectively. According to a study, people who drank beetroot juice walked 18% longer.[4]

Furthermore, scientists found that people consumed less oxygen when exercising at a low intensity, after consuming foods high in nitrates. Even people who don’t exercise regularly can benefit.[5]

Beetroot juice is very high in nitrates. Therefore, runners and other endurance athletes could drink it as a pre-workout before a race.

You can find a wide variety of organic beetroot powders on iHerb.

Even people with claudication pain (narrowed arteries impairing blood flow to legs) could benefit from drinking pure natural beetroot juice and other foods high in nitrates. Furthermore, foods rich in nitrates may increase blood flow in the brain. Nitrates may protect age-associated dementia and cognitive decline.[6]

Athletes should eat foods naturally high in nitrates

According to a 2018 study, elite athletes benefited from nitrate intake. They drank a beetroot juice before running. Beetroot juice is one of the richest foods in nitrates. After 2 weeks of drinking beetroot juice, elite runners increased their time to exhaustion. In addition, 500 mg of nitrates may help runners run faster.[7,8]

According to another study, beetroot juice enhanced maximal muscle power. Athletes on sports, that brief explosive actions are needed, may also benefit.[9]

According to another study, the consumption of nitrate-rich green leafy vegetables can:[10]

  • reduce resting blood pressure
  • enhance exercise tolerance
  • reduce the oxygen cost of submaximal exercise
  • enhance exercise performance.

Above all, nitrates seem to reduce oxygen cost during exercise, due to improved mitochondrial function. Mitochondria regulate cellular metabolism and produce energy. They are the powerhouses of cells. Consuming foods rich in Coenzyme Q10 could also have a beneficial effect.

Also, increased nitrate consumption from beetroot juice improved the oxygen consumption of breath-hold divers.[11]

Most noteworthy, we should consume only plant-based foods high in nitrates. Nitrates from other sources, such as processed meat, may have detrimental effects on our health.

Also, it’s better to avoid nitrate supplements. They may have beneficial effects on athletic performance, but we don’t know if their long-term consumption is safe.

Common foods high in nitrates

Foods high in nitrates are green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, arugula, radishes, as well as Chinese cabbage, parsley, and beetroots.

Nitrates
(mg/100 gr)
spinach3-600
lettuce12-550
turnip greens480
arugula (rocket)480
beetroot180-470
radishes420
endive190-340
Bok choy102–309 
celery290
kohlrabi270
carrot22-195
Chinese cabbage42-161
cabbage25-125
mustard greens 116
broccoli44
eggplant25–42
tomato39
potato18
cucumber14
pepper12
onion11
cauliflower8,5
garlic3,5
asparagus3
Foods rich in nitrates.

Furthermore, the nitrate content of food varies depending on the variety, season of harvest, soil, and many more. For instance, organic vegetables have fewer nitrates, as farmers don’t use nitrogen fertilizers.

Nitrate content
(mg/100 g) 
Vegetables
Very low, <20 Artichoke, asparagus, broad bean, cauliflower,
cucumber, eggplant, garlic, onion, green bean,
mushroom, pea, pepper, potato, summer squash,
sweet potato, tomato, watermelon 
Low, 20 to <50 Broccoli, carrot, pumpkin, chicory 

Middle, 50 to <100 
Cabbage, dill, turnip, savoy cabbage 
High, 100 to <250 Celeriac, Chinese cabbage, endive, fennel,
kohlrabi, leek, parsley 
Very high, >250 Celery, cress, chervil, lettuce, red beetroot,
spinach, arugula (rocket)
Foods rich in nitrates.