Running and nutrition are my two biggest passions and I am always on the hunt for new foods to try that might boost my performance and help me run a little stronger, faster & healthier.
In the last few years there have been several studies done on beetroot and aerobic performance. I explain what it is about beetroot that makes it so interesting for athletes, summarise the latest research and share my own personal experiences.
Beetroot comes from the same family as chard and spinach. Unusually, both the leaves and root of beetroot are eaten. The reddish-purple root has a sweet, full flavour while the leaves have a bitter taste making them a lively addition to salads.
Betacyanin, the pigment that gives beetroot its distinctive purple-crimson colour, is a powerful antioxidant which has been associated with reduced oxidation of LDL cholesterol and reduced risk of stroke and heart disease.
In terms of athletic performance it is the nitrates that beetroot is rich in that is of interest. Nitrates that we eat are converted into nitric oxide in our body which expands blood vessels and can be helpful in lowering blood pressure.
Studies on beetroot.
Studies have been undertaken to find out if beetroot juice supplements can positively impact response to exercise with many, although not all, concluding that beetroot juice does have positive exercise benefits.
One recent study reported beetroot supplementation benefiting high-intensity, intermittent exercise in trained football players by improving recovery through lowering mean heart rate. In this case the athletes took 800mg/day of nitrate in beetroot supplementation for several days before intermittent exercise.
How to prepare and eat beetroot.
As with most vegetables fresh beetroots are best, but it has to be said that they are messier and more time-consuming than some other vegetables to prepare so ready-prepared definitely have their place. If using fresh beetroot, simply wash gently to remove any soil residues, wrap in foil, place on a baking tray and roast in a hot oven for 45-60 minutes. Leave them to cool a little before carefully peeling and slicing.
It is perfectly possible to boil beetroot but I find roasting brings out the flavour and sweetness.
Beetroot juices are an alternative way of getting your daily fix of nitrates. There are many juices on the market now. Experiment to find your favourite but look for organic and those with no added sugars or artificial colours.
My own experiences.
I have tried a few beetroot juice shots recently and, once gotten over the initial sweet and earthy taste, found them very palatable. Giving the juice an hour or so to digest seems to work best for me and although I cant say I have noticed a big speed improvement the beetroot juices do seem to have giving my morning runs an extra energy "boost". Placebo or the real deal I cant say for sure but beetroot and beetroot juices will certainly stay as part of my pre-run nutrition plan.
If beetroot is something you can tolerate (not everybody can) it is well worth considering increasing the quantity of beetroot and other nitrate-rich vegetables, such as celery, rocket, spinach, and swiss chard, in your diet on a daily basis during the week before an important race or event. My advice though, as with any race day nutrition, is to experiment and try the strategy well before race day to see if it works and give enough time to adjust quantities.
Do you use beetroot juice shots? Tell me what you think of beetroot and beetroot juice for sports performance.
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Helen Morton, registered Nutritional Therapist. sports nutritionist, runner, Level 2 Fitness Instructor and food lover, sharing latest nutrition research and recipes.