Beeting Your Personal Best
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.