Beat them with beetroot!

It’s become a bit of a trend for some athletes to use beetroot juice to increase their sports performance. But why beetroot, and could it possibly work? We’ve got some of the insights that might encourage you to get your tongue a little maroon!

Many people turn to coffee or other caffeine supplements for their daily energy hit, but what if there was something perfectly natural, full of nutrients and which didn’t keep you awake at night, which could provide that energy boost?

Let’s look at beetroot.

Beetroots contain naturally high levels of (inorganic) nitrate, which, when consumed and digested, turns into nitric oxide. It’s the nitric oxide which acts as a ‘vasodilator’ which means that it helps to open up the blood vessels and allows for more blood (and therefore oxygen and nutrients) to be delivered to our working muscles. 

It helps with blood flow, muscle contraction, neurotransmission (brain signals) and a few other great things and BANG! Improved athletic performance.  There’s still a lot more to understand in this area of sports nutrition, but so far there seems to be research supporting the benefits of beetroot juice or shots for endurance and team sport activities, as well as for athletes training or competing at altitude. 

Chopping beetroot

Beetroot juice can be homemade and used to support athletic performance, but more concentrated ‘shots’ of this root vegetable seem like the better option. First, a ‘shot’ form would be easier and more palatable to down than a large 500ml serve of the interestingly flavoured beverage. But secondly, there might be some emerging evidence to show that concentrated volumes mean you can gain the advantage of its consumption even more.

We are also not yet certain of the best timing or ‘dose’ required to provide this athletic benefit, but so far it seems to be somewhere between 300ml and 600ml of beetroot juice, or 70ml to 140ml equivalent in concentrated shot form. 

In terms of what timing is most affective, different studies have had different results, however it seems to be two to three hours before the physical effort. One study indicated that it’s best consumed 2.5 hours before exercise, and the more beetroot juice the better. It was recommended to trial the equivalent of up to 2 shots and see how individual response and tolerance goes.  

Things to be aware of include gut upset. If you drink the juice rather than the concentrated shots, or opt for the higher dose, you might end up with some tummy or bowel troubles (particularly those who live with FODMAPS intolerances). For most, you are at risk of noticing pink coloured urine and stools, which is totally harmless but might create a little shock if you’re not prepared.   

One last side-note is that people who want to drink beetroot juice for this athletic benefit should avoid using mouthwash or chewing gum, as it reduces the available bacteria in the mouth. This bacteria is important in the process of converting the nitrate into the beneficial nitric oxide. Interesting fact for the day!

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