Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Can Beets Provide the Boost You are Looking For?

People seem to be always looking for ways to improve health and performance and a lot of times those searchers end up focusing on dietary supplements.  A supplement/food that has been catching a lot of attention lately is beetroot juice.  Wait, BEETROOT JUICE? You mean, the juice from BEETS; those vegetables that can't seem to taste terrible no matter what you do with them??

The answer is yes, although luckily food manufacturer's have found a way to make it a bit more tolerable. So how can beetroot juice help improve performance? Beets are high in antioxidants and nitrates (NO3-).   When we consume nitrates they are digested and absorbed and then converted to a substance called nitric oxide (not to be confused with nitrous oxide aka laughing gas).  Nitric oxide helps to regulate blood flow by  increasing the dilation of blood vessels ultimately allowing for an increase in blood flow which is essential during exercise.

Recent research suggests this may have an impact on performance in addition to helping cognitive function as there may also be an increase in blood flow to the brain. One study looked at a 7 day period of beet root juice supplementation (high in nitrates) and found a significant improvement in endurance performance (1). The researchers also found an improvement in cognitive function, specifically reaction time, throughout the exercise period.  It seems as though common benefits often include an increase in oxygen delivery to the working muscles which translates into an increase in time to exhaustion and help to delay fatigue during extended bouts of intermittent exercise which is common within team sports.

Other reports have looked into optimal dosing and timing strategies and it appears as though ~8 mmol of nitrates (the amount in roughly 140 mL of beetroot juice seems to be the most beneficial dose. Furthermore it looks like consuming the juice 2-5 hrs prior to exercise will help you get the most out of the drink but you need to consume it for a period of several days (5-7) before any noticeable improvement will be observed.

In case you're not a fan of beets there are other foods that are high in dietary nitrates.

Leafy green vegetables (i.e. spinach, celery etc.) however you would need to consume A LOT of spinach in order to get a performance benefit and outside of Popeye not many people put down that much spinach which is why beetroot juice is so attractive as it offers a nice concentrated dose of nitrates.  So pick up some beets at the grocery store and start giving them a shot!

1. Thompson, C., Wylie, LJ, Fulford, J., Kelly, J., et al. Dietary nitrate improves sprint performance and cognitive function during prolonged intermittent exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 2015. (PAP).

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