In the last few years there’s been a lot of excitement around beet juice for improving athletic performance. So what’s it all about you ask? Read on and I’ll explain what one decent study(1) tells us.
But first, a bit of background.
Beets are a rich source of inorganic nitrate, which is basically a nitrogen and three oxygen molecules. When you eat (or drink) beets, the nitrate is eventually converted into nitric oxide, which has many different effects in your body, but perhaps most importantly for our purposes, it can improve circulation and muscle contraction (to name a few).
So here’s what the researchers found: The amount of oxygen athletes needed to maintain a set level of exercise decreased in those subjects who drank beet juice. This means they used less energy to perform at the same pace. The highest pre-exercise dose of beet juice (which they ingested about 2.5 hours prior) (280 ml of a concentrated beet juice product) decreased oxygen consumption by 3%. So, drinking beet juice helps you use your energy more efficiently, so you have more to win, theoretically.
In the same study, they did another test on ‘time to exhaustion’, where they measure how long it takes an athlete to exhaust themselves after going as hard as they can (at a prescribed pace). The researchers measured boosts in time to exhaustion amongst the beet drinkers at 12-14%. In other words, this increased time to exhaustion can loosely translate to a 1-2% reduction in race time, which is of course a pretty big deal.
In this study, they used a concentrated beet juice product that is packaged in 70 ml amounts, which is about 2.3 ounces. Each 70 ml shot is roughly equivalent to 300 ml of straight-up beet juice. And, they used 1, 2, or 4 shots in the study. 2 and 4 shots would equal 600 ml and 1200 ml of straight beet juice. 600 and 1200 ml are a little over half and a full liter – that isn’t what we’d call a ‘sustainable’ dose of juice before an event. Any benefits one might receive would be wasted (literally) by the athlete visiting the port-a-potty every 5 minutes along the course.
If you’re going to use beet juice, you’ll need to find a concentrated form, and this and other studies suggest that the ideal time of ingestion is about 2-3 hours prior to your event.
A note about side effects; in the above study the researchers noticed that systolic blood pressure dropped anywhere from 5-9 mmHg at varying doses of beet juice, with smaller decreases in diastolic blood pressure. So beet juice may help lower blood pressure in some people.
Another side effect is that beet juice will color your urine orange-pink; you may also see it in your stool. Have no fear, you’re not bleeding it’s just how your body processes the pigments in beets.
There are several other studies out there on beet juice and performance. Most are positive, and a few show no changes –especially in elite athletes. Like everything else, good nutrition, sleep and dedicated training carry the most weight. If you’re on your game in those disciplines, try some beet juice and let us know how it goes!
1. Wylie LJ, et al. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 Aug 1;115(3):325-36.