A lot of people think beets are disgusting. In reality, I find that most of these people have never really even tried beets before and that once they do they are pleasantly surprised. I was exposed to beets at a very young age due to the Polish heritage of my maternal grandparents. Beet soup, more commonly known as borsch, is a traditional food on that side of the family. It was something that my grandfather always made for us growing up and we got a kick out of it because the soup was always bright pink from the color of the beets. I continued to eat plenty of beets when I lived in France because shredded beets were just as common as shredded carrots on salads - an excellent way to add them to your diet! All this time, I knew beets tasted good and were healthy, but I had no idea how good they could be for athletic performance...until now!
Beets contain a high amount of inorganic nitrates. When we eat these nitrates present in food, they are metabolized in the body, first to nitrite, and then subsequently to nitric oxide (NO). NO is essential for normal functioning of the vasculature of the human body. It is synthesized by the endothelial cells and is a potent vasodilator. Reduced production of NO has been linked to hypertension, atherosclerosis, & stroke. Numerous studies have shown benefits of consumption of nitrates (in the form of beet juice) on various cardiovascular diseases.
More recently researchers have been delving into the potential beneficial effects of nitrates on sports performance and have found good results. One mechanism of course is improved vasodilation, i.e. improved blood flow to the heart and exercising muscles. Another fascinating way that nitrates might help improve athletic performance is by lowering the oxygen cost of exercise by increasing efficiency of energy production. Basically, your muscles can produce more energy (ATP) with a given amount of oxygen - how cool is that!!? For those who care, it looks like this happens because there is less proton leakage through the mitochondrial membrane, thus resulting in a tighter coupling between mitochondrial respiration and ATP synthesis. How great are the benefits? Here are some study results:
- Eight healthy men drank 500 mL beet juice per day for 6 days and then were asked to cycle to exhaustion. Compared to the control group (who drank a juice that did not contain any nitrate), they lasted 16% longer.
- Male cyclists who drank beet juice 3 hours before a time trial significantly improved their times in a 4km by 2.8% and in a 16.1km by 2.7%.
- Compared to a placebo group, male cyclists who drank 140 mL beet juice/day for 6 days improved their time in a 10km TT by 12 seconds and had increased power output.
- 8-well trained cyclists completed two separate 50-mile cycling TTs. For one they drank 0.5L beet juice 2.5 hours before the TT and in the other they drank de-nitrated beet juice. After drinking the beet juice they had significantly improved power output and a 0.8% improved time.
- Runners ate 200g baked beets 45 min before a 5km TT. Compared to runners who did not eat beets, those who did ran 5% faster in the last 1.8 km of the TT.
- Rowers who drank 500 mL beet juice for 6 days outperformed those who drinking a placebo in a 500m rowing TT.
Of course, after reading about all this I wanted to try it. So imagine how excited I was to find out that Biotta Naturals Juices, maker of Beet Performer Juice became a sponsor of the Rev3 triathlon team that I was on! Score! I received a couple bottles of beet juice from Biotta and decided to put it to the test. I ate about 1/2 can of beets and drank about 8 oz beet juice every day for 3 days leading up to the race. I didn't drink any juice the morning of, simply because I ran out (poor planning, I know). I also ate arugula for three days prior to the race, which is another food high in nitrates. I'd have to say it worked out well b/c I won the race and improved my time in all three sports from the last time that I raced that race! Since then, I've continued to drink beet juice leading into races and on race day and I really believe that it helps. There was one particular race I did where the water temperature was in the low 50's! Burrr! I was kinda worried about getting in the water b/c I don't do well in cold weather. But, before the race I drank half a bottle of Biotta beet juice and I SWEAR it helped prevent the hyperventilation reflex that occurs due to constriction when you get into cold water!!! My theory is that it helped dilate my blood vessels and allowed me to get through that horribly cold swim!
|Team Rev3 Photobomb Throwback!|
Based on the research, it looks like consuming about 0.5L beet juice per day for about a week leading up to an event is beneficial. Also, a single dose about 3 hours before the event may be of even further benefit.
If you are worried about the taste of beet juice, don't be. It's actually pretty sweet and delicious. And it's best when served cold. You can order beet juice from Biotta Naturals website. Save 25% off by entering the code drinkbeets414. You can also enter your zip code in on the website to search for local stores in your area that sell the juice. Getting the juice this way is sooooo much easier than juicing your own beets, which I have tried before. I gave that up pretty quickly because I was sick of having to clean up the bright pink mess that was my juicer. Also, I find that the bottled juice actually tastes better than the juice that I made in my own juicer - probably something to do with the Swiss bottling process (I have never seen a place as clean and pristine as Switzerland in my life). Other foods besides beets that are high in nitrates are arugula, rhubarb, butterhead lettuce, celery, and spinach.
If you want to taste this juice, come by my office this week at TOPS Athletics :) We are sampling a variety of Biotta juices all week long :-) Then feel free to leave a comment about what you thought of the juice!