Doctor’s Tip: Doping with veggies
I use the term “doping” with tongue in cheek because here we are not talking about anything that is illegal or dangerous. According to Michael Greger (nutritionfacts.org website, “How Not to Die” book), some five years ago researchers showed that beets and beet juice could improve athletic performance.
A drink of beet juice allowed free divers to hold their breath for 30 seconds longer. Cyclists were able to perform at the same level of intensity while consuming 19 percent less oxygen than the placebo group, and when pushing themselves as hard as they could go, the time to exhaustion was extended from 9 minutes, 43 seconds to 11 minutes, 15 seconds.
Runners who ate 1½ cups of baked beets 75 minutes before a 5K race improved their performance while maintaining the same heart rate and reporting less exertion. Green leafy vegetables have been shown to do the same thing.
So how does this work? Beets and green leafy vegetables contain nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide, which improves the function of the endothelial lining of the arteries, a very delicate but important organ. This in turn causes the arteries to dilate, delivering more blood and oxygen to your heart and other muscles (this is how nitroglycerin works for heart problems, and Viagra for erectile dysfunction). As a result, athletic performance improves.
Furthermore, these foods actually enable your body to extract more energy from oxygen, something that researchers previously thought was impossible.
The top 10 food sources of nitrates, in descending order of content, are: arugula with the most, then rhubarb, cilantro, butter leaf lettuce, mesclun greens, basil, beet greens, oak leaf lettuce, Swiss chard and beets. The dose for “doping with plants,” based on the plants that have been studied, is a half cup of beet juice or three, 3-inch beets, or a cup of cooked spinach two or three hours before a competition.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.