In the sports world, many supplements come and go - some are food-based and others...not so much. A recent food-based player is beetroot juice or beetroot powder. Companies such as Beet Elite and Beet Boost sell powdered beetroot that can be mixed into water and taken like a shot 30-60 minutes before exercise. But what is beetroot juice, why all the hype and does it really improve performance?
Beetroot juice or powder is a source of nitrate, which is converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide regulates blood flow and muscle contraction within the body. Higher levels of nitric oxide equals more oxygen to flow to the muscles. This can be beneficial for athletes because better blood flow means better oxygen supply to working muscles, allowing the athlete to push harder for longer instead of hitting the wall too soon. However, beets are not the only food source of nitrates. Other vegetables considered high in nitrates (over 250 mg/100gm fresh weight) include celery, arugula, rhubarb, butterhead lettuce and spinach.
Several studies from 2009-2012 have shown that dietary nitrate can lower the oxygen cost of exercise and enhance endurance exercise by about 15% because nitrates increase mitochondrial efficiency. A 2013 meta-analysis (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2013:23:522) showed that performance benefits are more often observed in inactive to recreationally active individuals. The improvements included moderate improvements in time to exhaustion tasks and small positive effects (though not statistically significant) on time trial performance. However, keep in mind that there is a difference between statistical significance and real-world significance. In the world of elite athletes, any performance gain (even a few seconds) can mean the difference between first and second.
But is it safe?
Consuming dietary nitrate from vegetables or juices is presumed safe (the beauty of a truly food-based supplement). However, powdered supplements have a daily limit written on the product because - at some level - any vitamin or mineral can become toxic over time.
When used appropriately, beetroot juice is a promising supplement that we are sure to keep hearing about. Many collegiate athletics programs already include beetroot juice or powder in their smoothie station ingredients. I counsel athletes to try a product first for a few days in training before using on race day, but that it will likely have the most benefit during high intensity training or on competition days. Only use the product before a workout (for the most benefit) and one time per day. Check out Beet Elite or Beet Boost (two great brands).
(Disclaimer: I was not compensated to mention any products in this article.)
Your Nutrition Coach,