Athletes and teams are always looking for new ways to improve their performance and over the past 10 years there has been a huge increase in the number of athletes consuming beetroot juice in the build-up to a competition to help achieve a new PB.
So, what does it do and why has beetroot juice become so popular? The purpose of this article is to explain more about the benefits of beetroot juice. The first part provides more detail about beetroot juice or you can skip to the bottom for a summary of the key points.
Why has beetroot juice become so popular?
The key ingredient in beetroot juice is dietary nitrate. Nitrate is found in large amounts in a range of leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale as well as beetroot. The juice in jars of sliced beetroot does not count as it is actually vinegar.
What is the benefit of taking dietary nitrate?
As mentioned, nitrate is the key component where the benefit comes from. When we consume the nitrate from our diet, it is absorbed in the gut and returned to mouth to be broken down into nitrite. Nitrite is then reabsorbed and broken down into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide plays a vital role in regulating a number of processes within the body. This includes the muscle function via regulation of blood flow, muscle contraction, glucose and calcium control as well as mitochondria function. By increasing the amount of nitrate from our diet, this increases the amount of nitric oxide.
An increase in nitric oxide causes the blood vessels to dilate which results in an increase in blood flow to the muscle, decrease in the oxygen cost of a given exercise intensity and makes the muscle more efficient. A more efficient muscle uses less oxygen at a higher intensity meaning athlete can exercise at a higher intensity for a longer duration.
As a result, a recent International Olympic Consensus (IOC) concluded that consuming nitrate has a number of benefits:
1. Improve performance – consuming adequate amounts of nitrate has been shown to improve time trial performance by 1 to 3%. The percentage improvement doesn’t sound like much but can be the difference between winning and losing a race.
2. Reduce the onset of fatigue – Nitrate supplementation has also been associated with a 4% to 25% improvement in exercise to exhaustion meaning an athlete can exercise for longer and at a higher intensity.
3. Improve exercise efficiency – The improvements mentioned above come from changes in the body. An increase in nitric oxide leads to a number of physiological changes such as an increase in blood flow to the muscles and enhanced mitochondria function which results in a reduced oxygen cost of exercise.
Additional benefits may include for recovery after injury, particularly for tendon injuries. Blood flow around tendons is very poor which limits the amount of nutrients that can get to it. Increasing the blood flow via nitrate may potentially improve the recovery.
Furthermore, due to the ability of nitrate to dilate the blood vessels, it may also help those in a clinical population with reducing high blood pressure.
How much do I need to consume?
A recent International Olympic Consensus (IOC) stated that we need to consume 310 to 560mg nitrate per day to have any beneficial effect on performance. Consuming concentrated products is a much simpler and convenient way to achieve this target.
What if I eat more vegetables?
There are 2 considerations here:
The first is the sheer volume of vegetables required to get enough nitrate. To achieve those recommended intakes of 310-560mg you would have to eat at least 200g spinach, 100g of rocket or 500ml beetroot juice. Consuming this amount of food before a competition will be really uncomfortable and affect your performance.
The second issue is the fact that the nitrate content of vegetables can vary substantially so it’s hard to tell if you have consumed enough nitrate to improve performance.
Using concentrated products provide an optimal dose of nitrate in a convenient form for athletes to take, particularly if they are staying away from home. The Beet It shots are easy to transport in their kit bag or for those that like to add it to other foods such as smoothies, there is the 250ml concentrated cordial bottle.
So when is the best time to consume the shots?
The benefits of consuming nitrate are not seen instantly. The conversion of nitrate to nitric oxide takes a few hours so the best time to consume the shots is around 1 – 3 hours before your training or exercise session.
More recent research has demonstrated that consuming the shots in the days leading up to an event can provide further benefit. Drinking either 500 ml of beetroot juice or 1-2 of the beet it shots a day for three to 6 consecutive days is an optimal dosing strategy. Extending the beetroot juice consumption beyond 6 days shows no additional benefits.
Is it safe to take?
There are very few side effects reported with beetroot juice but there are a few things to be aware of.
1. It should be noted that consuming high amounts of beetroot juice can lead to gastrointestinal distress (upset stomach). This means it is really important that you practice your competition nutrition during training
2. Some athletes have reported that their urine colour and stools turn pink. This is temporary and perfectly safe.
3. There is also some evidence that certain mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine can limit the conversion of nitrate to nitric oxide resulting in a loss in performance benefit.
Make sure any products or supplements are Informed Sport Approved. Products such as Beet It Sport, are Informed Sport. This means they are tested for any banned or contaminated substances. This is a vital requirement for any supplement as this can massively reduce the chance of an athlete testing positive if they were to be selected for testing by UK Anti Doping. A positive test can lead to a ban from your sport of atleast 2 years.
For more information check out http://informed-sport.com
What if I don’t like the taste of beetroot?
Most people love the taste however for those of you not as keen, there are a few things you can do that may help.
1. Stick the shots in the fridge, for some people the shots taste better when chilled. Alternatively add to a glass of water with ice.
2. Add the shots to other meals such as smoothies
3. Use some of the other products such as the flapjack bars and mix into a bowl of porridge
1. Consuming dietary nitrate, via a diet with plenty of nitrate rich vegetables or in concentrated juice form provides a number of benefits for exercise performance
2. Using nitrate-based supplements such as in the form of concentrated beetroot juice, has been shown to increase the time to exhaustion during prolonged exercise by 4% - 25%, a 1-3% improvement in sport specific time trial performance as well as a 3 - 5% improvement in team sport performance.
3. The optimal dosing strategy is still under review but consuming 1 to 2 concentrated shots everyday for 6 days prior to a competition and then an additional shot 2-3 hours before exercise has been shown to provide additional benefit on sport performance.
1. 1. Jones, A. M. (2014). Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports medicine, 44(1), 35-45.
2. Lansley, K. E., Winyard, P. G., Bailey, S. J., Vanhatalo, A., Wilkerson, D. P., Blackwell, J. R., Gilchrist, M., Benjamin, N., & Jones, A. M. (2011). Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(6), 1125-1131.
3. Maughan, R. J., Burke, L. M., Dvorak, J., Larson-Meyer, D. E., Peeling, P., Phillips, S. M., … & Meeusen, R. (2018). IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 28(2), 104-125.
4. Tan, R., Wylie, L. J., Thompson, C., Blackwell, J. R., Bailey, S. J., Vanhatalo, A., & Jones, A. M. (2018). Beetroot juice ingestion during prolonged moderate-intensity exercise attenuates progressive rise in O2 uptake. Journal of Applied Physiology, 124(5), 1254-1263.