Could beetroot boost your sports performance?

If you have seen my gym sessions then you probably know that I love a horrible, sweaty workout that results in collapsing on the floor. You can't beat that feeling of struggling to breathe, knowing you are pushing yourself to your limits while getting fitter and stronger both mentally and physically. Well, what if I told you there was a natural way where you could make this just a little bit easier (or allow you to push yourself a bit harder). Well you can and it's 100% natural and completely legal. The answer lies in the humble beetroot.

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

When you consume beetroot (in either food or as a juice), the nitric oxide levels in your body are increased. Research shows nitric oxide can increase blood flow, improve lung function and even strengthen muscle contraction. Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the bodies ability to supply oxygen to working muscles during exercise. Nitric oxides opens blood vessels (vasodilation) which increases blood flow, providing more oxygen to your working muscles. It is via this process that beetroot juice increases cardiorespiratory performance and improves muscle function.

The Research 

A study by Murphy et al, investigated the effects of consuming baked beetroot on treadmill running performance. They found that running velocity during the 5-km run tended to be faster after beetroot consumption. It is interesting to note this was only applicable to the final 1.8km and not the earlier portion of the run.  Perceived exertion was also reduced in the beetroot group.

Wylie et al. studied the effects of beetroot juice on HIIT training. They found that performance was improved with the consumption of beetroot juice but only for 24 x 6 seconds intervals, there was no improvement during the longer interval durations of 30 seconds or more. It seems beetroot juice can aid when performing Tabata but perhaps not for other styles of HIIt training. For more details you can find  the full article here.

Bond et al. tested the effects of beetroot juice on rowing performance and again found that supplementing with the juice resulted in improved maximal rowing-ergometer repetitions, particularly in the later stages of exercise.

Aucouturier et al supplemented participants with beetroot juice for 3 consecutive days and found that exercise tolerance was increased during HIIT training. Participants were able to work harder and perform more reps after consuming beetroot for 3 days prior to testing.

Conclusion 

It seems that drinking beetroot juice or consuming beetroot in its edible form can indeed boost sports performance. If you are making your own beetroot juice please be careful, I once juiced 4 whole beetroots and didn't dilute it down which made me very ill!! I would only add one whole beet and make sure you use some water so it's not too concentrated. As a side note, beetroot does turn your wee red so don't panic and think you're dying when you go to the loo 😉

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