Are you juicing bro? No I am not talking about steroids, but instead beet juice. Why would you ever want to drink beet juice though? In the second part of this Are you Juicing Bro? series of articles, we’ll examine the effect beet juice has on endurance training and why drinking beet juice is effective in increasing endurance based performance. Part 1 of this Are you Juicing Bro? series of articles covered the effect pickle juice has on exercise induced cramps.
Beets, more accurately referred to as beetroots, are the taproot portion of the beet plant. Easily made into chips, roasted to perfection, or cooked however you like, beets are a versatile and nutritious starch you can add into your diet. Beets are good sources for a variety of vitamins and minerals, but they are particularly high in vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. This article isn’t concerned with the nutrition, taste, or how to cook beets though, but instead how you can supplement with beets in order to improve your athletic performance.
Can Beets Improve your Endurance?
For years beets have been labeled as a miracle endurance supplement by those who noticed seemingly improved speed, stamina, and decreased rate of perceived exertion following beet supplementation. Following this anecdotal evidence, researchers started to take notice, and since then a slew of studies have been performed in an effort to quantify the effects of beets on endurance fitness. The first thing that was discovered was that it was a relatively simple compound which was responsible for the endurance boosting effects of beets: Nitrates.
More than one type of nitrate exists, and a nitrate is a salt or ester of nitric acid, containing the anion NO3- or the group —NO3. Nitrates are produced in the body in limited amounts, but nitrates levels in the body can be increased via consumption of nitrate rich foods, such as beets, turnips, and leafy green vegetables, among other food sources (red meat anyone?). Nitrates appear to have a greater uptake in areas of the body which are oxygen deficient (i.e. working muscles), as the conversion of nitrate (NO3-) to nitrite (NO2-) and subsequently to nitric oxide (NO) occurs primarily in deoxygenated blood.
Nitrates appear to reduce elevated blood pressure levels of those exercising, but if a person is in good health, during periods of no strenuous physical activity nitrates have little to no effect on blood pressure. In people with hypertension, nitrates appear to reduce elevated blood pressure levels even while at rest.
Nitrates appear to reduce the oxygen cost of exercising, as a result enhancing endurance exercise performance by marginally improving speed, stamina, and by decreasing the rate of perceived exertion. Endurance exercise is aerobic in nature (requiring oxygen), and strength training is primarily anaerobic in nature (requiring an absence of free oxygen), and considering nitrates are able to increase endurance exercise performance through delaying deoxygenation, it makes sense that nitrates (and beets through association) have little to no effect on increasing acute power output (like the type of power needed during a 1RM, which is anaerobic).
Beet the Competition
Increasing your consumption of endurance boosting nitrates, which is easily accomplished if you eat beets, is a great way to reduce the rate of fatigue during continuous exercise, specifically in the 1-10 minute range. Prolonged cardiovascular exercise also benefits from beet supplementation, but to a lesser extent than endurance exercise in the 1-10 minute range.
On the effects of beet supplementation on oxygen cost, from the website Examine.com,:
In healthy trained adults, ingestion of 0.1mmol/kg nitrate is associated with a reduced oxygen cost of exercise by 5.4% (assessed via VO2) during submaximal performance and increased energy efficiency by 7.1%; these were independent of changes in heart rate, respiratory exchange ratio, and blood lactate.There was no influence of nitrate supplementation at maximal work. Another study confirms the decrease in oxygen usage but found benefit for low (20% reduction), medium (7.1%), and high (7.2%) intensity running exercises where time to fatigue was increased 15% in high intensity running following 6.2mmol nitrate for 6 days, and this is noted elsewhere where nitrate at 0.1mmol/kg (via sodium nitrate) reduced VO2 max yet did not adversely influence performance (trended nonsignificantly to increase time to exhaustion). One study has noted that muscle extraction of oxygen has been reduced 19% following supplementation of 500mL of beetroot juice (11.2+/-0.6mM nitrate).
In regards to exercise performance, oxygen cost is highly influential, and these effects can been seen by testing more relatable metrics, such as running and cycling events. In one study on beet supplementation, a 5 km trial was run 41 seconds faster in the beet group, and in another study, 500 ml of beet juice (containing ~400 mg of nitrate) consumed 2.5 hours prior to a cycling time trial improved the first 4 km of the trial by 2.8% and improved the full 16.1 km time trial by 2.7% in the beet juice group.
Beet supplementation seems to be most effective when measuring the time to exhaustion, as it has a strong anti-fatigue effect, and beet supplementation appears to be less effective in purely increasing endurance exercise performance. Basically beet supplementation will help you keep going for longer, but it won’t make you signifigantly faster than you already are.
How to Supplement with Beets
The nitrate content of beets does not appear to be reduced depending on the processing/cooking method used. Any preparation method ranging from juicing to roasting works. It’s probably easiest to consume the required amount of beets through juicing, but roasted beets and beet chips are in my opinion a must tastier alternative.
One study found beets to have on average 1446 mg of nitrates per kg of beet, and other foods (dill, spinach, and lettuce) tested for nitrates had even higher concentrations of 2,936 mg/kg, 2,508mg/kg, and 2,167 mg/kg respectfully. While these other vegetables are better sources of nitrates than beets, it’s kinda hard to juice lettuce wouldn’t you say?
Since it is the nitrate content of beets that we are concerned about, dosing should be done according to the nitrate concentration of the food source, and in the case of beets, one kg of beets contains on average 1446 mg of nitrates. The optimal dosage of nitrates for athletic supplementation appears to range from 6.4 – 12.8 mg of nitrate per kg of body-weight. Based off of the preceding values, nitrate dosing would be as follows:
- 435 – 870 mg (653 mg avg) for a 150 lb person (68 kg)
- 508 – 1016 mg (762 mg avg) for a 175 lb person (79.4 kg)
- 580 – 1,161 mg (871 mg avg) for a 200 lb person (90.7 kg)
- 653 – 1306 mg (980 mg avg) for a 225 lb person (102 kg)
- 725 – 1451 mg (1088 mg avg) for a 250 lb person (113 kg)
Considering the wide range between the lower and higher nitrate amounts sufficient for supplementation, I suggest dosing off of the average of the range values. For the amount of beets it would take to supplement the average value for the nitrate supplementation ranges above at each body-weight, it calculates as follows:
- 1 lb (0.45 kg) of beets for a 150 lb person
- 1 lb 3 oz (0.53 kg) of beets for a 175 lb person
- 1 lb 5 oz (0.60 kg) of beets for a 200 lb person
- 1 lb 8 oz (0.68 kg) of beets for a 225 lb person
- 1 lb 10 oz (0.75 kg) of beers for a 250 lb person
As seen below, Nitrate blood plasma levels are most elevated 2-4 hours after dosing with beets, with smaller doses reaching peak blood plasma concentrations sooner than larger doses. These values return back close to baseline after 24 hours.
The bottom values correspond to nitrate blood plasma values when only water was ingested. The values above correspond to doses of 300 ml, 600 ml, or 1200 ml of beet juice
Considering beet juice can cause gastrointestinal “problems” in some people, supplementing with the minimum effective dose of beet juice is highly recommended. Definitely experiment with beet juice in an “accommodating” environment to see how your body reacts to it before chugging a liter of the stuff 2 hours before a 5K. That could be bad.
Interestingly, the conversion of nitrate to nitrite, a critical step needed to see the performance enhancing effects of nitrates, is inhibited greatly if mouthwash is used or if saliva isn’t swallowed. The reason for this is that it has been demonstrated that the reduction of nitrate to nitrite, a critically needed step, occurs in the oral cavity by friendly bacteria. All that beet consumption won’t account for much if you use mouthwash right afterwards, so learn to savor that earthy flavor.
Note – Do not be alarmed if you notice that your excrement is red or has a reddish tinge to it after consuming beet food products. This is known as beeturia, and it affects a certain percentage of people. The condition is harmless, and should be no cause for concern. This is caused from betalains, a compound found in beets.
If you wish to improve your work capacity and delay exercise induced fatigue during bouts of exercise lasting 1-10 minutes, or longer with diminished effects, supplementing with beet juice 2-4 hours before needed is a highly effect way to up your game. Would I religiously drink beet juice before every metcon I perform or every jog I take? Personally probably not, but I would definitely consider beet juice supplementation if I had an important competition which requires my A game. Pick up a juicer and start juicing your own beets, or you can buy nitrate concentrated beet juice “shots” from companies like Beet It or Red Ace. You can even buy beetroot powder, but i’m not sure how effective this is.
Note – A large amount of the information presented here was resynthesized from examine.com. Examine is a great resource for anyone who is a health, nutrition, and supplement nut, and it is my go to resource when I am researching something new. Check it out.
GO FORTH AND CONQUER
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