Beetroot has a high nitrate (NO3 −) content, among the highest assessed, and contains more than other foods high in NO3 − including spinach, celery, arugula, and carrot juice.
Nitrate is reduced to nitrite via bacteria in the oral cavity and by specific enzymes (e.g., xanthine oxidase) within tissues, and eventually metabolized to nitric oxide (NO). This is important because NO triggers the vasculature to relax (vasodilatation) leading to increased blood flow during exercise.
Given these properties, NO has gained a lot of attention for possible endurance exercise improvements including increased oxygen, glucose, and other nutrient uptake to better fuel working muscles.
The Research is Undeniable
The literature supporting the efficacy of BRJ for athletic performance and health benefits is vast, so I had to select just a few examples. Here we go.
Lansley et al. recruited 9 healthy, physically active men who consumed either 0.5 liters of BRJ or 0.5 liters of NO3 −-depleted BRJ placebo (in other words they are comparing beet root juice with and WITHOUT NO – which is believe to provide the boost). They consumed this for 6 days, and then performed acute bouts of submaximal and high-intensity (to exhaustion) running and incremental knee-extension exercises.
BRJ consumption increased plasma nitrite by 105% and reduced the oxygen cost by 7% (ie. it was oxygen sparing).
Okay this is pretty impressive but this is one study…
Another study by the same research group (they love their beets) examined the effects of BRJ ingestion on power output, oxygen consumption (VO2), and performance cycling time trials (TT). They used nine competitive male cyclists who consumed either 0.5 liters BRJ or placebo containing nitrate-depleted BRJ before each time trial of 4 or 16 km.
BRJ consumption increased plasma nitrite by 138% and resulted in significantly reduced time to completion (they got faster) and increased power output during both the 4 km and 16 km time trial compared to placebo.
Many other studies (I have referenced 7 example studies) have found that beet root juice significantly enhances athletic performance in different ways.
It is important to note that highly trained athletes may not have the same response to BRJ. It’s like the CEO looking for a promotion, there is only so much room for improvement. That being said, it is certainly a “risk” worth taking, considering there is absolutely no risk and only potential for gain.
There are several ways to incorporate BRJ into an athlete’s diet.
One strategy is to prepare the BRJ from the whole beets using the following technique:
1)remove the stalks and thoroughly wash the beets, cut into cubes, submerge in water, bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes until beets are tender.
2)Allow to cool, pour off the fluid, and place in refrigerator (lasts up to 5 days) or freeze (up to 3 months).
3)Consume 16 fl. oz. alone or mixed with another antioxidant-rich juice (tart cherry, grape, cranberry, and pomegranate) on endurance exercise days. Keep in mind these (and these other antioxidant mixtures) are high in sugar so you must be strategic in when you use them.
Another technique is to thoroughly blend 2-3 whole beets (stalks removed) in a food processor, blender, or juice compressor. Easy peezy.
This is part 1. Next we will look at some shocking studies that reveal what BRJ does to the brain.
[i] Katherine E. Lansley et al., “Dietary Nitrate Supplementation Reduces the O2 Cost of Walking and Running: A Placebo-Controlled Study,” Journal of Applied Physiology 110, no. 3 (November 11, 2010): 591–600, https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01070.2010.
[ii] Katherine E. Lansley et al., “Acute Dietary Nitrate Supplementation Improves Cycling Time Trial Performance:,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43, no. 6 (June 2011): 1125–31, https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e31821597b4.
[iii] Lansley et al.
[iv] Lansley et al., “Dietary Nitrate Supplementation Reduces the O2 Cost of Walking and Running.”
[v] David J. Muggeridge et al., “A Single Dose of Beetroot Juice Enhances Cycling Performance in Simulated Altitude:,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 46, no. 1 (January 2014): 143–50, https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a1dc51.
[vi] Lee J. Wylie et al., “Influence of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Intermittent Exercise Performance,” European Journal of Applied Physiology 116, no. 2 (February 1, 2016): 415–25, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3296-4.
[vii] Lee J. Wylie et al., “Beetroot Juice and Exercise: Pharmacodynamic and Dose-Response Relationships,” Journal of Applied Physiology 115, no. 3 (May 2, 2013): 325–36, https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00372.2013.
[viii] Stephen J. Bailey et al., “Inorganic Nitrate Supplementation Improves Muscle Oxygenation, O2 Uptake Kinetics, and Exercise Tolerance at High but Not Low Pedal Rates,” Journal of Applied Physiology 118, no. 11 (April 9, 2015): 1396–1405, https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01141.2014.
[ix] Christopher Thompson et al., “Dietary Nitrate Improves Sprint Performance and Cognitive Function during Prolonged Intermittent Exercise,” European Journal of Applied Physiology 115, no. 9 (September 1, 2015): 1825–34, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3166-0.