To understand how beets could reduce the oxygen cost of exercise while improving athletic performance, one must review the biochemistry of energy production (ATP synthase) and the body’s conversion of nitrates to nitrites into nitric oxide.
Video thanks to Said Sannuga.
What could possibly be in beet juice to so revolutionize the field of sports physiology? First, a quick biochemistry breather. Our body uses oxygen to create ATP, the energy currency of our bodies. Every time we think; every time we blink; every time we flex a muscle; we use up ATP, which has to be replenished by breathing more oxygen, or we die.
The enzyme that makes ATP (ATP synthase) deep inside our cells, is literally a microscopic rotary mechanical motor. Oxygen causes the flow of protons, and like a water wheel in that flow, the enzyme turns and makes ATP. Like any motor it's not perfectly efficient. There's some slippage of the gears. There's proton leakage out the edges. But it's an extraordinary mechanism.
OK, so where do beets come in? Well, beets offer one of the most concentrated sources of dietary nitrate, which is absorbed in our stomach, and then actively concentrated and pumped back into our mouth through our salivary glands because our body knows that there are special commensal bacteria that live on our tongue. Our tongue bacteria take these nitrates and convert them into nitrites which are then reswallowed, absorbed again, and then make their way to our cells and then converted into a third compound, nitric oxide, which then acts on the proton pump to either reduce the slippage or plug up the leaks or even take the place of oxygen in the whole contraption.
We're still not sure, but this is why they think beets are able to reduce the oxygen cost of exercise while improving athletic performance.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.
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What sports physiology revolution am I talking about? See yesterday’s video, Doping with beet juice. Daily viewers of NutritionFacts.org may recognize nitric oxide, featured a few weeks ago in The power of NO. If bacteria on our tongue play a critical role in this process, what would happen to vegetable-enhanced athletic performance if we made the mistake of swishing with an antiseptic mouthwash? Find out in tomorrow's video, and in the meanwhile please feel free to check hundreds of my other videos on more than a thousand subjects. And happy Valentine's day everyone! Check out my blog post Atkins Diet and Erectile Dysfunction for tips on extending one's love life as well as the life of your love.
For more context, please check out my associated blog post: Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance.