Share this article on:

Nitrate Supplementation Enhances the Contractile Properties of Human Skeletal Muscle


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2014 - Volume 46 - Issue 12 - p 2234–2243
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000351
Basic Sciences

Purpose: Dietary nitrate supplementation positively affects cardiovascular function at rest and energy metabolism during exercise in humans and has recently also been reported to markedly enhance the in vitro contractile properties of mouse fast-twitch muscle. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of short-term nitrate supplementation on the in vivo contractile properties of the skeletal muscle and voluntary muscle function of humans.

Methods: In a double-blind, randomized, crossover design, 19 healthy untrained men (21 ± 3 yr) ingested a nitrate-rich concentrated beetroot juice (NIT; nitrate dosage, approximately 9.7 mmol·d−1) and a placebo (PLA) for seven consecutive days. After the last supplementation dose, force was recorded while participants completed a series of voluntary and involuntary (electrically evoked) unilateral isometric contractions of the knee extensors.

Results: NIT enhanced the peak force response to low-frequency electrical stimulation, as follows: maximal twitch (NIT, 149 ± 41 N, vs PLA, 138 ± 37 N; P = 0.008; effect size, r (ES) = 0.56) and submaximal 1- to 20-Hz contractions (5%–10%, ES = 0.53–0.63). Whereas explosive (rising phase) force production during the first 50 ms of evoked maximal twitch and octet contractions (eight electrical impulses at 300 Hz) was also 3%–15% greater after NIT compared with that after PLA (P = 0.023–0.048, ES = 0.52–0.59), explosive voluntary force remained similar (P = 0.510, ES = 0.16). Maximum voluntary force was also unchanged after NIT (P = 0.539, ES = 0.15).

Conclusions: These results indicate that 7 d of dietary nitrate supplementation enhanced the in vivo contractile properties of the human skeletal muscle. Specifically, nitrate supplementation improved excitation–contraction coupling at low frequencies of stimulation and enhanced evoked explosive force production but did not affect maximum or explosive voluntary force production in untrained individuals.

School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Jonathan P. Folland, Ph.D., School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Ashby Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication December 2013.

Accepted for publication March 2014.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine