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Updated: Mar 15

What are Nitrites?

Nitrites are conversion products of nitrates. Nitrates are naturally occurring compounds found in many foods, particularly vegetables such as spinach, beetroot and lettuce. In the body, nitrates can be converted into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth and digestive tract. This conversion process is a normal part of digestion. However, high levels of nitrate in the diet can increase the amount of nitrite produced in the body. When nitrites are present in high concentrations, they can be detected in urine.

How can the levels be affected?

Nitrites themselves are not directly linked to physical activity. In the event of excessive consumption of nitrates, high levels of nitrites may be found in urine:

  1. Dehydration: During exercise, particularly intense or prolonged activity, dehydration can occur. Insufficient hydration can concentrate urine and lead to an increase in the concentration of substances present in the urine, including nitrites.

  2. Oxidative stress: Intense physical exercise can increase the production of free radicals in the body, leading to oxidative stress. This stress can cause changes in the composition of urine, including an increase in nitrite levels.

  3. Changes in urine pH: Physical activity can influence urine pH. For example, intense exercise can cause an increase in the acidity of urine, which can promote the conversion of nitrates into nitrites in the body.

  4. Ingestion of nitrates from food sources: Certain foods rich in nitrates, such as green leafy vegetables, beetroot and radishes, are often eaten by active people for their nutritional value. Eating these foods can increase nitrate levels in the body, which can result in higher levels of nitrites in urine.

High levels of nitrites in the urine may be normal after exercise but should return to normal in the following days.

How can I maintain an optimal rate?

To maintain optimum levels of urinary nitrites, you can consider the following strategies:

  • Stay well hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps to maintain adequate hydration and limit the concentration of nitrites in urine.

  • Urinate quickly: Avoid holding your urine for long periods and empty your bladder regularly, especially after physical activity.

  • Avoid irritants: Reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods, which can irritate the bladder and increase the amount of nitrites in urine.

  • Limit processed foods: Processed foods such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs and charcuterie are high in nitrates and nitrites, which are often used as preservatives and colour enhancers. Limiting consumption of these processed meats can help reduce dietary intake of nitrates. Favour fresh fruit and vegetables and whole foods. Fresh produce contains fewer nitrates than processed foods.

  • Moderate consumption of nitrate-rich foods: Although certain nitrate-rich foods such as spinach, rocket and beetroot are beneficial for physical performance in sport, eating them in moderation can help to reduce nitrate intake. Watch your portion sizes and balance your diet with a wide variety of foods.

During a competition, you mayimprove your performance by increasing your nitrate intake. You can incorporate certain foods naturally rich in nitrates into your diet. Here are some foods that are good sources of dietary nitrates:

  • Green leafy vegetables: Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, rocket and lettuce are excellent sources of nitrates. Add them to salads, smoothies, stir-fries or sandwiches to boost your nitrate intake.

  • Beetroot: Beetroot is one of nature's richest sources of nitrates. You can enjoy beetroot roasted, boiled or grated raw in salads, or try beetroot juice for a concentrated dose of nitrates.

  • Root vegetables: Root vegetables such as carrots, radishes and turnips contain moderate levels of nitrates. Enjoy them raw as a snack, roasted as a side dish or grated into a salad.

  • Cruciferous vegetables: Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower also contain nitrates. Add them to your meals by steaming, roasting or stir-frying.

  • Celery: Celery is another vegetable naturally rich in nitrates. Enjoy it raw with hummus or peanut butter, or add it to soups, stews and salads.

  • Parsley: Fresh parsley is a tasty herb that contains nitrates. Use it to garnish your dishes or add it to salads, sauces and dressings.

  • Coriander: Coriander is rich in nitrates and adds a fresh, lemony flavour to dishes. Use it in salsas, salads, marinades and soups.

  • Radishes: Radishes are crunchy vegetables that contain nitrates. Enjoy sliced in salads, pickled as a condiment or roasted as a side dish.

  • Spinach: Spinach is not only rich in iron, but also a good source of nitrates. Add spinach to omelettes, pasta dishes, smoothies or sautéed as a side dish.

  • Beetroot juice: If you're looking for a concentrated source of nitrates, consider drinking beetroot juice. It's available in many grocery shops and can be drunk on its own or mixed with other juices.

Incorporating these nitrate-rich foods into your diet can help increase your dietary nitrate intake and potentially provide benefits for sports performance associated with nitrate consumption.

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