by: Brian Dick
I love to stay up-to-date on performance and athletic related fitness studies, and it seems like everywhere I turn now there is a new article or video clip on the efficacy of beet root extract — or more simply, beets. The beginning understanding is that the nitrates in beets are digested in the body and act as vaso-dilators. This dilation of the blood vessels lowers blood pressure and increases the effectiveness of oxygen consumption into the muscles. This process offers performance enhancing characteristics when endurance and effective oxygen uptake is critical (i.e., virtually every sport!)
In fact, many notable journals have posted interesting articles on the usage of beet roots and their positive effects on performance (walking, running, swimming, and cycling). Numerous studies show that beet root consumption could decrease the O2 costs of certain exercises and could increase speed (times) in running and cycling competitions. Examples of positive studies can be found below:
- International Journal of Sports Nutrition Study
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Study
- Journal of Applied Physiology
There are, however, other studies that have shown no explicit gains from the ingestion of beets. For example:
It should be noted, however, that this last study recorded effects of consuming beets for one day only. It appears that the positive effects of beets on performance may only be realized if the consumption occurs on a more frequent and consistent basis.
I have increased my beet uptake recently to see if it would impact my functional strength and cardio workouts. I eat canned, cooked beets, and I juice raw beets regularly. While I haven’t noticed a noticeable change in my strength conditioning, I have noticed far greater endurance when I’m running. Whether this is a placebo affect or not I’m not sure, because I don’t have a way to accurately measure my blood O2 levels. To me it doesn’t matter — if one day (without eating beets) I can run 5 miles comfortably and unwinded, and after a few days of eating beets regularly I can feel the same at nearly 5.75 miles, then I’ll take that placebo effect any day. Consider incorporating more beets into your diet before and on cardio days if you feel comfortable increasing your intake. Be forewarned however. If you eat beets for more than 3-4 days consecutively you will likely begin peeing in red. I’ll admit it, I freaked out a little bit the first time this happened — until I realized what was happening.