Extract of article published on Verywellfit.com July 25, 2019.

Beets can provide a competitive edge for athletes and can improve performance by almost 16% according to a 2014 study by the University of Exeter.

Athletes and active adults are leaning more towards nutrient-dense foods to improve athletic performance. Diets rich in vegetables like beets are shown to have a significant impact on body functions during exercise. In fact, beetroot juice has become one of the most popular ergogenic supplements for athletes. What makes the beet such an athletic nutritional powerhouse?

Beets Contain Amazing Nutrients

The beetroot (beta vulgaris) is enjoyed as a food source, is used medicinally, and continues to grow in popularity as an ergogenic supplement. Although there are several varieties of the heart-shaped vegetable, the most common among health-conscious people are the red beetroot.

Studies indicate vegetables high in nitrate promote improved health and athletic performance. Beets are a rich source of potent antioxidants and also high in nitrate levels. Nitrate is a chemical naturally occurring in certain foods and is converted into nitric oxide when consumed.

Drinking beet juice raises nitric oxide levels in your body. Research shows nitric oxide can increase blood flow, improve lung function, and strengthen muscle contraction. This combination has stimulated athletes to supplement with beet juice for improved cardiorespiratory endurance and performance.

Beet Juice Improves Athletic Performance

The importance of cardiorespiratory fitness for athletes and active adults is essential. This component of physical fitness refers to the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to working muscles during prolonged exercise. Nitric oxide (NO) from beet juice helps this process. It is shown to increase cardiorespiratory performance and improve muscle function.

Nitric oxide (NO) works by stimulating body functions affecting oxygen utilization. It opens up your blood vessels (vasodilation) increasing blood flow and feeding more oxygen to working muscles. Nitric oxide also functions as a signalling molecule communicating with your cells and body tissues. This communication ensures more blood flow to the muscle and adequate oxygen intake inside the muscle.

Positive Research Findings

Beet juice studies have been conducted on athletes in a variety of sports including running, swimming, cycling and power walking. The common goal of all research was to examine the beneficial effects of beetroot juice on athletic performance.

A study was published on beetroot juice supplementation and aerobic response in fourteen male swimmers. The participants were master athletes aged in their mid to late thirties and in excellent health. Controlled swim tests were conducted with and without beetroot juice supplementation. The athletes were evaluated throughout the swim test for maximum volume of oxygen (VO₂) and aerobic energy cost.

The swimmers significantly increased their anaerobic threshold after beet juice supplementation compared to testing without. This means increased oxygen capacity allowed them to swim longer before reaching exercise failure after drinking beet juice. The athletes were also shown to have a decreased aerobic energy cost supplementing with beet juice. A lowered energy cost enabled the swimmers to sustain an increased exercise time.

According to the review, there is a small percentage of the population that doesn’t perceive a benefit from beet juice supplementation training at high elevation. The reason for taking it is to enhance athletic performance but may not be the case for all athletes.

Sports Specific Results Using Beet Juice

A systematic review was conducted on several articles studying the effects of beetroot juice and improved cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. More than twenty articles were selected to be studied. The focus of the review was to determine the effects of beetroot juice alone and in combination with other supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes.

The articles covered a wide spectrum of sports and included both male and female athletes. Among the athletes indicated were kayakers, triathletes, cyclists, swimmers, runners, and healthy active adults. Results from these studies and are summarised below:

  • Beetroot juice supplementation appears to enhance aerobic performance in both trained male and female athletes. The volume of oxygen utilized at varying intensities was greatly improved after beet juice consumption.
  • Kayakers supplementing with beet juice before competition showed improved oxygen capacity compared to a placebo group.
  • Trained swimmers exhibited greater exercise capacity and improved endurance after beet juice consumption.
  • Competitive cyclists who supplemented with beetroot juice improved their performance by 0.8% in a 50-mile test. Significant improvements were observed during the last 10 miles. Both oxygen efficiency and time to exhaustion were greatly improved after beet juice consumption.
  • All athletes were able to maintain exercise intensities from 60 to 80% significantly longer during exercise with beet juice supplementation.
  • Trained runners ran 5% faster in the later part of a 5,000-meter race supplementing with beetroot juice 90 minutes prior to their event.
  • Beetroot juice supplementation is shown to promote mitochondrial biogenesis. Exercise causes cellular stress and mitochondrial biogenesis is a process where our body increases energy in our cells.
  • It is suggested beetroot juice supplementation may improve muscle contraction functions.
  • Beet juice is indicated to improve cardiorespiratory fitness in athletes performing in higher altitudes. Best results were reported when beet juice was supplemented at least six days prior to their events.
  • Caffeine appears to interact with beetroot juice and mask the ergogenic benefit.
  • The most common side effect reported was beeturia (red urine) and red stools.

Some key points for athletes considering supplementing with beetroot juice

  • Peak nitric oxide (NO) blood concentration occurs within 2 to 3 hours after beetroot juice consumption. Optimal ergogenic effects have been observed after 150 minutes of consuming beet juice.
  • Oral antiseptic rinses (mouth wash) can lessen the effect of nitrate levels in beet juice and are not recommended.
  • Most research was conducted using a 500ml beetroot supplement dose for best ergogenic results. This is approximately 2 cups of juice or 384 grams.
  • Athletes seem to benefit most from beet juice supplementation 150 minutes prior to their events.
  • Active healthy adults supplementing with beet juice for 15 days showed an increase in power and oxygen during sustained exercise.