Athletes are looking for more nutrient dense and healthy alternatives to improve their training and overall health. Beetroot is rich in antioxidants and powerful plant compounds, along with nitrates. Research has shown that beetroot is one of the most promising nitric oxide boosters and may produce positive athletic performance benefits. With athletes becoming more health conscious and opting for naturally derived whole food products, beetroots could be a great addition to your nutrition and training.
What Is Beetroot
Beetroot is a low-calorie vegetable packed with antioxidants such as polyphenols, carotenoids, vitamin c, vitamin B2, potassium, manganese, folate, potassium, betanin and nitrates. Research shows that beetroot has a host of health benefits, with recent evidence purporting that the nitrate content may improve athletic performance by increasing nitric oxide (NO) levels.
In addition to performance benefits, beets are a powerful superfood and provide numerous health benefits due to its nitrate, betanin and are a rich source of potent antioxidants, such as vitamin C, carotenoids, phenolic acids and flavonoids.
Research suggests that betalains is a powerful phytonutrient and may reduce inflammation in the body, which are associated with chronic disease states such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes [R]. Nitrate content has also been associated with a reduction in blood pressure and hypertension, by relaxing and widening blood vessels thus increasing oxygen and nutrient uptake [R].
How Does Beetroot Improve Athletic Performance
1. Beetroot Increases Nitric Oxide Production
Evidence suggests that beetroot may improve performance outcomes, through a few different mechanisms. The first being, it's rich nitrate content, and the ability to increase nitric oxide production.
Nitric oxide widens blood vessels increasing blood flow and circulation without increasing blood pressure. Research has shown that with more oxygen and blood flow being delivered to your muscle tissue during exercise, comes a direct increase in performance outcomes. Nitrates improve muscle efficiency by reducing the oxygen cost of submaximal exercise and thereby improving endurance exercise performance. Therefore, with more oxygen, blood flow and nutrients transported to your skeletal muscle, comes an improvement in strength, endurance capacity, and workout recovery.
Research has shown that nitric oxide is essential for overall health, especially cardiovascular health as it supports the transport of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your body and muscle tissue efficiently and effectively.
What Are The Health And Performance Benefits Of Beetroot?
1. Beet Roots Can Improve Endurance
Recent studies suggest that beetroot can improve cardiovascular endurance in athletes by increasing exercise efficiency increasing time to exhaustion, anaerobic threshold and maximum oxygen uptake or VO2 max [R]. Studies have been performed on a wide variety of training protocols, including swimming, sprinting, cycling, and high-intensity interval training.
In a randomized cross-over study, published in the Journal Medicine Science in Sports Exercise, nine athletic trained cyclists, 0.5L of beetroot juice or placebo two hours prior to the completion of a 4 and 16km time trial. The study concluded that beetroot juice supplementation increased plasma nitrate levels, producing higher power output at the same VO2 max [R]. A research group with a similar study design from the Netherlands produced similar results and showed an increase in power output and optimized VO2 in a group of twelve trained cyclists over a study period of six days [R].
2. Beetroot May Improve Focus
Mental fatigue can negatively impact athletic performance, specifically on cognitive and physical performance. Drive is an important determinant in an athletes performance and perseverance, while training.
An additional study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology investigated the effects of nitrate beetroot supplementation on exercise performance and cognitive function using an all-out sprint test. The results showed an increase in total work capacity and cognitive reaction time, suggesting that beetroot enhances repeated sprint performance and may attenuate the decline in cognitive function (and specifically reaction time) that may occur during prolonged intermittent exercise [R].
3. Beetroot May Increase Time To Exhaustion
Athletes require more oxygen to supply their body during prolonged exercise. Cardiorespiratory fitness is essential for the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen, to your muscles while you're training. Nitrates, have been shown to improve oxygen consumption, thus increasing time to exhaustion, and enhancing muscular endurance.
A study published in Nutrients investigate the effects of beetroot supplementation on fourteen moderately trained swimmers to investigate performance outcomes and measures. Study participants significantly increased their anaerobic threshold with beetroot supplementation compared to placebo. Aerobic energy cost was also significantly reduced, thus enabling the swimmers to increase time to exhaustion with an improvement in oxygen consumption or VO2 max [R].
A systematic review was conducted to find Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. From the search 23 articles were selected for analysis. The compounded results suggest that supplementation with beetroot juice can improve cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes by increasing efficiency, which improves performance at various distances, increases time to exhaustion, and may improve the cardiorespiratory performance at anaerobic threshold intensities and maximum oxygen uptake or VO2 [R].
Beetroot On Athletic Performance: Takeaway
Athletes are looking for ways to include more nutrient dense alternatives to improve health and athletic performance. Research clearly indicates that beetroot can provide athletic performance benefits by promoting the natural release of nitric oxide, through its rich nitrate content. More nitric oxide, means better performance outcomes in strength, endurance, and recovery. If you're looking for more natural ways to increase performance, adding in some beets to your daily diet, is a great way to get the added nitrates to promote optimal endurance capacity.
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Thompson, C., Wylie, L.J., Fulford, J. et al. Dietary nitrate improves sprint performance and cognitive function during prolonged intermittent exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 115, 1825–1834 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3166-0
Domínguez, R.; Cuenca, E.; Maté-Muñoz, J.L.; García-Fernández, P.; Serra-Paya, N.; Estevan, M.C.L.; Herreros, P.V.; Garnacho-Castaño, M.V. Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Nutrients 2017, 9, 43.
Cermak NM, Gibala MJ, van Loon LJ. Nitrate supplementation's improvement of 10-km time-trial performance in trained cyclists. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012;22(1):64-71. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.22.1.64
Domínguez, Raúl et al. “Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent high-intensity exercise efforts.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 15 2. 5 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0204-9
Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson EJ. The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients. 2015;7(4):2801-22. DOI: 10.3390/nu7042801
Bonilla ocampo DA, Paipilla AF, Marín E, Vargas-molina S, Petro JL, Pérez-idárraga A. Dietary Nitrate from Beetroot Juice for Hypertension: A Systematic Review. Biomolecules. 2018;8(4) DOI: 10.3390/biom8040134