Drink Beetroot Juice To Supercharge Your Workouts
A double shot can help you push upto 15% harder
When you think of workout supplements beetroots probably aren’t the first thing that spring to mind. This deep red veg has some benefits though which could help you train for longer and push your intensity higher.
It’s down to the naturally occurring nitrates in the veg. Other veg also have nitrates, mainly leafy greens like spinach, cabbage, rocket and broccoli. Beets, however, have them in higher concentrations.
In the body nitrates are converted to nitrites, some of which are then converted into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a cardiovascular signaller; it sends messages to little muscles in blood vessels and tells them to relax. This causes the vessels to widen (known as vasodilation) and therefore allows more blood to flow through them.
Blood carries oxygen to your muscles — this increase in blood flow from the vessels widening means more oxygen reaches them. This allows your muscles to work harder for the same amount of time or for longer at the same intensity.
The vasodilation from the raised levels of nitric oxide allow the body to exercise more efficiently. As Prof. Andy Jones of Exeter University (who loves his beetroot) puts it; ‘it can reduce the energy required to exercise at a specific power output. This should translate into improved performance’.
The amount needed for a noticeable boost is about 600mg of nitrate, which translated means about 140ml of concentrated beetroot juice (a ‘double shot’). It’s best to drink this no less than 2 hours before exercising; it takes about that long for the body to convert the nitrates to nitric oxide.
Performance increases by %
Let’s talk percentage results. These are all from drinking about a double shot of beetroot juice 2 hours before working out.
If you’re exercising at the same intensity and for the same amount of time as you usually do, studies show it can increase your oxygen efficiency by 5.4%. This means you literally don’t have to breathe as much to output the same amount of work you would usually.
It’s been shown that when running it can increase time to exhaustion by 15%, meaning you can run for 15% longer than usual.
Another study showed that it can increase high intensity performance by 4%. At the athlete level where fractions of a second really count, whether you’re sprinting, biking or swimming, a 4% increase in your performance could be the difference between first place or fifth.
All this from drinking a bit of beet juice.
Other Health Benefits
Beetroots also confer other possible benefits like helping reduce blood pressure and supporting brain health. These are also results of the vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) by the nitrate content of the vegetable.
The brain needs oxygen to survive and vasodilation can support the brain by simply allowing more oxygen to flow to it. The reduced blood pressure effect comes from the physical effect of vasodilation; expanding a tube that fluid is flowing through. Given that the amount and pressure of the fluid doesn’t change, widening the tube it flows through increases the space it has to travel in and therefore reduces its pressure.
It’s like if you were to turn on a garden hose while squeezing it. That narrowing of the tube forces the fluid through a smaller space which increases the pressure, makes it flow faster out of the other side. Releasing the hose releases the pressure by increasing the space in which the fluid has to flow.
Are Nitrates Bad for You though?
Nitrates have a bit of a bad rep generally. They’re known by some to be bad for the body and even carcinogenic (cancer causing).
We require nitrates in our diet and most are naturally occurring in the vegetables we eat.
A nitrate itself isn’t dangerous. It’s a stable compound (NH3, for all you chem fans) and won’t do damage by itself. It’s when it turns into a nitrite (NH2) that it becomes reactive and can bond with other molecules and form different compounds. Nitric oxide is one of these compounds, which is generally good for the body, as we’ve seen.
The compounds which can contribute to causing cancer are things called nitrosamines. They generally don’t exist in vegetables but we can get them in our diet from cooking preserved or cured meats. Nitrates are added to meats as preservatives, to bacon for example. When cooked, especially at high temperatures, the nitrates and the proteins can combine to create nitrosamines.
Vegetables with a lot of naturally occurring nitrates (leafy greens and beetroots) don’t have a lot of protein in them and generally aren’t cooked at very high heats and therefore have far less amounts of nitrosamines, if any, when cooked.
The form of nitrate used to preserve and cure meat usually comes in the form of sodium nitrate, not ‘usual’ nitrates just on their own. Sodium in high quantities isn’t good for the body and can be carcinogenic. The daily recommended intake of sodium nitrate is 3.7mg per kilo of bodyweight. Eating cured and preserved meats too often will push it over this amount.
It’s not about the nitrates themselves, it’s about what foods they come in, what other compounds are in those foods and how they’re cooked.
Balance is important though, as it is with anything in life. Too much of anything can be bad; too much sugar can build your fat stores up a bit too much, too much alcohol destroys your liver, hell even too much water can cause problems in your blood. Beetroot juice will definitely give your workouts a boost but don’t drink it all the time, just as you wouldn’t drink energy drinks constantly to fuel your workouts.
So give it a go — just a double shot of beetroot juice 2 hours before a workout could help you push harder, train longer and may even help you come first.
Happy working out :)