Endurance athletes have taken to a strong inclination towards beetroot juice , claiming an improvement in athletic performance. The origins of beetroot juice supplementation lie in a report by Swedish researchers which suggested that three days of nitrate supplementation lowered the oxygen demand of nine endurance athletes as opposed to a placebo. Beetroot juice being rich in nitrates began to be consumed by athletes looking for an improvement in blood and oxygen flow to their muscles which would enable them to last longer without experiencing fatigue. Are these claims true or is it a dietary fad? Let us take a closer observation based on existing scientific research. There are other claimed health benefits of beetroot juice such as aiding with weight loss
Why do athletes swear by beetroot juice?
Marathon runners were guzzling beetroot juice during the London 2012 Olympics. Researchers at the University of Essex found that nitrates present in the beetroot juice increases the nitric oxide levels in the blood resulting in improved blood and oxygen flow to the muscles. As the oxygen is utilized more efficiently athletes are able to run faster and move more efficiently. Studies have shown that beetroot juice and reduce your running time and also enhances the athletes tolerance to high intensity exercise. A experiment conducted at the Exeter University ,UK found that athletes who consumed regular beetroot juice could perform run for 8.7 minutes at high intensity as opposed to 7.6 minutes when given a nitrate depleted beetroot juice.
Researchers at Penn State however disputed the efficacy of beetroot juice in performance enhancement. The research team headed by Dr Proctor failed to notice an improvement in blood flow to muscles when athletes were administered a beetroot drink as opposed to a placebo. This study is in particular important because it was the first of its kind to directly test it on humans. However , the researchers warned against drawing any broad conclusions as their test subject were healthy men in their 20s with already a great blood flow and excellent biomarkers. Therefore, one cannot generalize the results to all populations as the effects on a 20 year old is going to be different when compared to a 30 or a 40 yr old . The younger you are the better is your cardiovascular function , and when your circulatory system’s ability to transport blood is at its peak there is little room for improvement. Additionally, the study only looked at men doing a handgrip exercise and not on endurance athletes such as runners or cyclists. The oxygen requirements for endurance athletes vary greatly when compared to other sports. One of the most important findings from this study was a conclusive evidence of de-stiffening effect on arteries from nitrous oxide , which were a byproduct of nitrates in our body.
Our Verdict : Do you need beetroot juice?
The most important question is should you use it? Well, if you are someone who goes for a morning jog and want to run a couple of extra kilometers, the answer is no from a purely athletic standpoint. From a health standpoint due to its antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties, beets are definitely not going to harm an average healthy individual so there is minimal risk incorporating them in your diet.
If you are an elite athlete looking to compete and win marathons, diving events, long distance cycling it is a safe supplementation which is worth trying out. There is more evidence in favor of improved performance than not. The nutrient profile and quality of beets are very important in this case. Try to select the best quality beets which are free from pesticides and harmful fertilizers to ensure that maximum benefits are extracted.