There is a shift towards more nutrient-dense foods to help improve athletic performance, and diets that are rich in vegetables like beets can have a significant effect on body functioning during exercise.
Beetroot juice is becoming the drink of choice for athletes looking to improve, but why is the humble beet so good?
1. Packed with Nutrients
Beetroot is growing in popularity as an ergogenic supplement, and they are a good source of antioxidants. They are also high in nitrates, and studies show that veggies high in nitrate help to improve health and boost athletic performance.
Nitrate is converted into nitric oxide when eaten, and drinking beet juice raises the nitric oxide levels in your body. This results in increased blood flow, improved lung function, and stronger muscle contractions.
2. Beet Juice Improves Athletic Performance
Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to keep the working muscles supplied with oxygen during prolonged exercise. Nitric oxide from beet juice helps this process by increasing cardiorespiratory performance and improving muscle function.
Beet juice can improve athletic performance by almost 16%, according to preliminary research.
3. Research Findings
Studies on athletes using beet juice have been conducted in a variety of sports, including running, swimming, cycling and power walking.
One study on beetroot juice and aerobic response was conducted on fourteen male swimmers, who were athletes in excellent health. Controlled swimming tests were carried out with and without beetroot juice supplementation.
The swimmers significantly increased their anaerobic threshold after taking beet juice, compared to testing without. The increased oxygen capacity allowed them to swim for longer before reaching exhaustion.
4. When Beet Juice Doesn’t Help
Although numerous studies show that beet juice is effective in improving athletic performance, there are some caveats. Most of the research took place at normal elevations, and there is conflicting evidence on beet juice being of benefit to athletes competing at higher altitudes.
The change in elevation seems to have an effect on how nitric oxide in the beet juice affects the body. One study indicated increased nitrate levels in the blood after supplementing with beet juice, but showed no enhanced performance in running.
Jessica Crandall, RD, CDE, says that beet juice may be effective for most athletes, but not for those who exercise in higher altitudes.
Results Using Beet Juice
More than twenty articles of the effects of beetroot juice were reviewed, and the focus was to determine the effects of beetroot juice alone, and in combination with other supplements, on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes.
Among the athletes indicated were kayakers, triathletes, cyclists, swimmers, runners, and active, healthy adults.
Kayakers who supplemented with beet juice before competing showed improved oxygen capacity compared to a placebo group. Cyclists who supplemented with beet juice improves their performance by 0.8 percent in a 50-mile test. Trained swimmers showed greater exercise capacity and improved endurance after beet juice consumption. All athletes were able to maintain exercise intensities from 60 to 80 percent significantly longer during exercise when they consumed beet juice. Trained runners ran 5 percent faster in the later part of a 5000-meter race when they consumed beet juice 90 minutes before the event. The ideal time to consume beet juice is around 150 minutes before an event. It has been suggested that supplementing with beet juice may improve muscle contractions. Caffeine appears to react with beet juice and masks the benefits.
Most research was conducted using a 500ml beetroot supplement for the best ergogenic results – around 2 cups of juice.
The most common side effect appeared to be red urine and red stools.
Other Possible Health Benefits
May Reduce Blood Pressure
Because beetroot juice is high in nitrate, it acts as a vasodilator on the body, and relaxes your blood vessels for increased blood flow.
Research shows that there can be a significant decrease in blood pressure three hours after drinking 500ml of beetroot juice.
May Help Prevent Cancer
Beetroot contains antioxidants that can help reduce cancer risk. Red beetroot extract has similar cancer-fighting properties as some anti-cancer prescription drugs.
Betanin (a food dye extracted from beets), is shown to be biologically active, and research has discovered that betanin helps to reduce the size of breast and prostate cancer cells.
The antioxidants in beets help to cleanse the body from toxins – betaine and pectin are essential to cleansing the liver so that toxins aren’t re-absorbed by the body.
Decreasing the toxins in your body helps to reduce inflammation, encourages healing, and is shown to reduce the risk of chronic illness and disease.
Beets and beet juice are a good source of betalains, which help to reduce inflammation in the body. They lessen the activity of certain enzymes that can trigger inflammation. Studies show decreased inflammation from drinking beet juice can help reduce the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes.