Beet Juice: The Newest ‘Performance Enhancing Drug’?
Can beet juice improve athletic performance?
One of the latest hypes for endurance athletes isn’t from one of the big sports labs. In fact, it’s not from a lab at all.
And even though it looks like the perfect Valentine’s Day cocktail, it actually tastes a little bit like, well, dirt. And it’ll probably make your pee bright pink. But you also might find that you’re completing that 5k a little faster and that bench press is a little easier to get up.
I present to you: beet juice.
It’s fully legal and natural, and there’s been a surprising amount of good research done in the past 10 years that indicates it improves athletic performance – significant enough to give a serious athlete a competitive edge. Even the International Olympic Committee recently acknowledged that there’s good scientific evidence to back up supplementing with beet juice.
How Does Beet Juice Improve Athletic Performance?
So why beet juice (aka beetroot juice)? The key is the very high level of nitrate found in the juice. The body transforms nitrate into nitrite, which then enzymatically is reduced into nitric oxide. You might recognize nitric oxide as the ‘NO’ found in some pre-workout supplements.
Nitric oxide has two major effects on an athlete. The first is that nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow to muscles. Simultaneously, it makes your mitochondria more efficient, lowering the amount of oxygen they require to produce energy by about 19%. That’s impressive because the amount of oxygen needed to work at a certain intensity is normally fixed. It’s not affected by age, training, or even erythropoietin (EPO) use.
So nitric oxide both improves oxygen supply and lowers oxygen cost because the mitochondria are more efficient. In terms of boosting performance, that’s a pretty good combination.
Studies show this combination offers a serious power boost, especially for endurance events that last between 5 and 30 minutes – athletes drinking 500mL of beet juice saw a 15% increase in the time taken to reach exhaustion. Lots of athletic events fall into that time frame, from middle distance swimming and running to rowing, all the way up to 5K and 10K races.
Team sports have been studied less than individual sports, but there is some research that indicates that beet juice can improve performance in the so-called Yo-Yo recovery test, which simulates the stop and start action that you get in sports like football, basketball, and soccer. Fittingly, many pro sports teams have turned to beet juice over the last decade.
Beet juice supplementation also seems to give a bigger boost to recreational athletes than to elite athletes. Studies using recreational athletes have consistently found improvements in exercise efficiency and performance, whereas studies using highly trained athletes have shown that they require a higher and more prolonged dose of beet juice to see effects.
Bonus: One study showed that just three hours after drinking 600mL of beet juice, participants saw their systolic blood pressure (which measures the pressure in your blood vessels as your heart beats) fall by an average of 10 points.
Is Beet Juice Safe?
You may have heard that nitrites are potentially dangerous, and that we should limit our consumption of them. The fear is that inside the body, nitrites can combine with proteins to form compounds known as nitrosamines. There is some evidence that these compounds are carcinogenic, which is the reason that most health organizations advise that we limit our intake of cured meats like bacon and hot dogs, which use sodium nitrite to extend their shelf life.
But as opposed to processed meat products, beet juice contains nitrate, not nitrite, and there’s no protein that could lead to the formation of nitrosamines.
How To Take It?
The protocol that’s been studied the most by sports scientists involves drinking about 500mL of raw beetroot juice 2 to 2.5 hours before an event.
However, it’s probably worth finding the minimum effective dose of beetroot juice for your body, given some of the gastric side effects if you overdo it. Take it from someone who’s tested the above protocol out: it can give you the “runs of your life” in more ways than one. Thankfully, alternatives in the form of concentrated juices are now widely available which replicate the effect of fresh juice without risking an upset stomach.
World Champion cyclist Mark Cavendish highlighted another side effect of beetroot juice in a tweet:
Doesn't matter how often it happens, taking a pee the day after drinking beetroot juice will always freak you out!! #pissingrainbows
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) January 13, 2012
More recent data shows improvements can be seen at 300 mL, or about one shot of concentrated beet juice. At 600 mL the performance gain is bigger, but more than that provides no extra benefit. Researchers have also found that regular consumption is more beneficial than just chugging it on race day.
Other vegetables also have high levels of nitrate, including spinach, celery, and chard. They presumably have similar effects, but studies haven’t confirmed them yet.
L-citrulline – a non-essential amino acid you can buy in pill form that your kidneys break down into nitric oxide – has also been shown to boost athletic performance and lower blood pressure.
Will It Work For Me?
Like all supplements, individuals will respond differently to the performance enhancing benefits of beet juice. In the latest University of Exeter study, they reported non-responders in each group. Some study participants never saw any improvement, even at the highest dose.
You won’t be able to correct for the placebo effect when you use beet juice, but by tracking your performance (whether it’s a training log or a fitness tracking device), you can see if you’re getting a benefit, or if you’re just making your pee pink for no reason.
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
Whether you’re a pro athlete or weekend warrior, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of reaching your full potential as an athlete. Ready to get stronger? To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.