Beet­ing Your Per­sonal Best

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Training Nutrition - By Dan Way

There­are few nat­u­ral sub­stances that can claim to boost per­for­mance benefits for en­durance sport. Beet­root is an ex­cep­tion. It is a le­gal er­gogenic aid and is quickly be­com­ing the most sought-af­ter en­durance booster by week­end war­rior and elite triath­lete alike.

A 2009 study out of the Univer­sity of Ex­eter re­vealed that tak­ing 500 ml of beet­root juice over six days was ef­fec­tive for in­creas­ing the de­liv­ery of oxy­gen to work­ing mus­cles dur­ing a mod­er­ate ex­er­cise test. It was also shown to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the time-to- ex­haus­tion in an “all- out” ex­er­cise test.

Since then, re­search has shown that beets are a source of in­or­ganic ni­trate. When in­gested, bac­te­ria in our saliva con­vert the ni­trate to ni­trite that is later changed into ni­tric ox­ide, which acts in var­i­ous ways to have a whole slew of im­por­tant per­for­mance- boost­ing ef­fects. These in­clude de­creas­ing blood pres­sure, im­prov­ing blood f low and de­liv­ery to work­ing mus­cles, en­hanc­ing mus­cle con­trac­tion and even in­creas­ing neu­ro­trans­mis­sion. And while it is still not en­tirely un­der­stood which bod­ily mech­a­nisms con­trib­ute to the ob­served en­durance en­hance­ment, few can ar­gue with the real- life re­sults that may in­clude a one to two per cent im­prove­ment in your race re­sult from 5 km right up to the marathon.

As an ap­plied (i. e. real-world) ex­am­ple, a 2012 study had recre­ational ath­letes per­form two 5 km tread­mill time tri­als, once af­ter con­sum­ing beet­root (with more than 500 mg of ni­trate), and the other fol­low­ing con­sump­tion of a calor­i­cally equal placebo (with no ni­trate). Find­ings showed that the 5 km run time fol­low­ing beet­root con­sump­tion was slightly faster (although not sig­nif­i­cant). How­ever, the beet­root run­ners did run sig­nif­i­cantly faster in the fi­nal two kilo­me­tres of the time trial and also re­ported a lower per­ceived level of ex­er­tion.

Sub­se­quent stud­ies have re­in­forced and ex­panded ini­tial find­ings. A re­cent one by the same au­thors of the orig­i­nal re­search clar­i­fied ef­fec­tive dosages for max­i­miz­ing per­for­mance. The key find­ings were that more tends to be bet­ter. There is def­i­nitely a “sweet spot” which seems to be be­tween 500 and 750 ml. Some com­pa­nies are now sell­ing con­cen­trated beetjuice in a “shot” which is roughly equiv­a­lent to 300 ml of juice. They also found that peak lev­els oc­cur at two to three hours af­ter in­ges­tion.

Beet user be­ware, how­ever, as there are colour­ful but en­tirely safe side- ef­fects from a high con­sump­tion of beets. The di­ges­tion of var­i­ous pho­to­chem­i­cal by-prod­ucts can re­sult in red­dish-hued urine. Also note that stud­ies have shown per­for­mance im­prove­ments re­sult pri­mar­ily from the whole con­sump­tion of beet­root and its im­me­di­ate by-prod­ucts. Tak­ing ni­trates, or even ni­trites, in an ar­ti­fi­cial non-food form may in fact have neg­a­tive health ef­fects and should be avoided. Fi­nally, us­ing mouth­wash and chew­ing gum may also im­pair the con­ver­sion of ni­trate to ni­trite and thus elim­i­nate their per­for­mance en­hanc­ing ef­fects.

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