How Does Beet Juice Improve Athletic Performance?

Beet juice

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Athletes and active adults are leaning more towards nutrient-dense foods to improve athletic performance. Diets rich in vegetables like beets are shown to have a significant impact on body functions during exercise. In fact, beetroot juice has become one of the most popular ergogenic supplements for athletes. What makes the beet such an athletic nutritional powerhouse?

Nutrient Powerhouse

The beetroot (beta vulgaris) is enjoyed as a food source, is used medicinally, and may be used as an ergogenic supplement. Although there are several varieties of the heart-shaped vegetable, the most common among health-conscious people are the red beetroot.

Beets are a rich source of potent antioxidants, such as vitamin C, carotenoids, phenolic acids, and flavonoids, along with nitrate. Nitrate is a chemical naturally occurring in certain foods and is converted into nitric oxide when consumed.

Studies indicate vegetables high in nitrate promote improved health and athletic performance.

Drinking beet juice raises nitric oxide levels in your body. Research shows nitric oxide can increase blood flow, improve lung function , and strengthen muscle contraction. This combination has stimulated athletes to supplement with beet juice for improved cardiorespiratory endurance and performance.

Athletic Performance

The importance of cardiorespiratory fitness for athletes and active adults is essential. This component of physical fitness refers to the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to working muscles during prolonged exercise.

Nitric oxide (NO) from beet juice helps this process. It is shown to increase cardiorespiratory performance and improve muscle function.

Nitric oxide (NO) works by stimulating body functions affecting oxygen utilization. It opens up your blood vessels (vasodilation) increasing blood flow and feeding more oxygen to working muscles. Nitric oxide also functions as a signaling molecule communicating with your cells and body tissues. This communication ensures more blood flow to the muscle and adequate oxygen intake inside the muscle.

Beetroot juice may provide a competitive edge for some athletes and has been shown to improve performance by almost 16% according to a small study conducted in 2014.

Positive Research Findings

Beet juice studies have been conducted on athletes in a variety of sports including running, swimming, cycling, and power walking. The common goal of all research was to examine the beneficial effects of beetroot juice on athletic performance.

A study was published on beetroot juice supplementation and aerobic response in fourteen male swimmers. The participants were master athletes aged in their mid to late thirties and in excellent health. Controlled swim tests were conducted with and without beetroot juice supplementation. The athletes were evaluated throughout the swim test for the maximum volume of oxygen (VO₂) and aerobic energy cost.

The swimmers significantly increased their anaerobic threshold after beet juice supplementation compared to testing without. This means increased oxygen capacity allowed them to swim longer before reaching exercise failure after drinking beet juice.

The athletes were also shown to have a decreased aerobic energy cost supplementing with beet juice. A lowered energy cost enabled the swimmers to sustain an increased exercise time.

The results indicate beetroot juice supplementation may enhance the athletic performance of master trained swimmers, although study authors noted that more research is needed to determine if beetroot juice may be beneficial for highly trained swimmers.

High Altitude

Numerous studies have shown beet juice effective to improve athletic performance. Most of this research has taken place under normal environmental conditions. There appears to be conflicting evidence on beet juice benefiting those athletes competing at higher elevations. 

Working out in high altitudes places additional demands on the body, especially decreased oxygen supply to working muscles. The primary reason oxygen is decreased occurs as a response to a reduction in oxygen pressure at a higher elevation. 

The change in elevation may have an effect on how nitric oxide (NO) in beet juice affects the body.

One small study investigated well-trained runners in a simulated altitude environment, where air pressure is normal but oxygen levels are lower. Results indicated increased nitrate levels in the blood after supplementing with beet juice but showed no enhanced running performance.

Another clinical review suggested that there is a small percentage of the population that doesn’t perceive a benefit from beet juice supplementation training at high elevation. The reason for taking it is to enhance athletic performance but may not be the case for all athletes.

Endurance

A systematic review was conducted on several articles studying the effects of beetroot juice and improved cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. More than twenty articles were selected to be studied.

The focus of the review was to determine the effects of beetroot juice alone and in combination with other supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes.

The articles covered a wide spectrum of sports and included both male and female athletes. Among the athletes indicated were kayakers, triathletes, cyclists, swimmers, runners, and healthy active adults. Results from these studies and are summarized below:

  • Beetroot juice supplementation appears to enhance aerobic performance in both trained male and female athletes. The volume of oxygen utilized at varying intensities was greatly improved after beet juice consumption.
  • Kayakers supplementing with beet juice before competition showed improved oxygen capacity compared to a placebo group.
  • Trained swimmers exhibited greater exercise capacity and improved endurance after beet juice consumption while energy expenditure decreased.
  • Competitive cyclists who supplemented with beetroot juice improved their performance by 0.8 percent in a 50-mile test. Significant improvements were observed during the last 10 miles. Both oxygen efficiency and time to exhaustion were greatly improved after beet juice consumption.
  • All athletes were able to maintain exercise intensities from 60 to 80 percent significantly longer during exercise with beet juice supplementation.
  • Trained runners ran 5% faster in the later part of a 5000-meter race supplementing with beetroot juice 90 minutes prior to their event. The article did note a recommendation of supplementation 150-180 minutes before ergogenic effects are observed
  • Athletes seem to benefit most from beet juice supplementation 150 minutes prior to their events.
  • Research suggests supplementing with beetroot juice at least six days prior to intense exercise or athletic events for best ergogenic benefits.
  • Active healthy adults supplementing with beet juice for 15 days showed an increase in power and oxygen during sustained exercise.
  • Prolonged beetroot juice supplementation in combination with endurance training is shown to promote mitochondrial biogenesis. Exercise causes cellular stress and mitochondrial biogenesis is a process where our body increases energy in our cells.
  • It is suggested beetroot juice supplementation may improve muscle contraction functions.
  • Beet juice is indicated to improve cardiorespiratory fitness in athletes performing in higher altitudes. Best results were reported when beet juice was supplemented at least six days prior to their events.
  • Caffeine appears to interact with beetroot juice and mask the ergogenic benefit.
  • Oral antiseptic rinses can lessen the effect of nitrate levels in beet juice and are not recommended.
  • Research was conducted using amounts ranging from 70–500ml beetroot supplement dose for best ergogenic results. This is approximately 2 cups of juice or 384 grams.
  • The most common side effect reported was beeturia (red urine) and red stools.

Other Benefits

Consuming beets or beet juice may boost your athletic performance but is also a popular superfood for overall health improvement. Consuming beetroot juice has shown to help with the following:

Reduces Hypertension

According to chronic studies on hypertension, beetroot juice is high in nitrate. When you eat beets or drink beet juice, nitrate is converted into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator and functions by relaxing and dilating your blood vessels for increased blood flow.

This directly affects the pressure within your blood vessels. The research indicates a significant decrease in blood pressure three hours after drinking 500ml of beetroot juice.

These findings suggest dietary nitrate found in beets as a natural low-cost way to treat hypertension and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Anti-Cancer Properties

Beets contain powerful antioxidants or phytonutrients that may help reduce the risk of cancer. Human studies are lacking, but in vitro (test tube) evidence suggests that red beetroot extract has similar cancer-fighting compounds as some anti-cancer prescription drugs. Betanin, which is a food dye extracted from beets is shown to be biologically active. In vitro research has discovered betanin helps reduce the size of breast and prostate cancer cells. These findings have stimulated further examination to confirm the chemopreventative potential of beetroot extract.

Anti-inflammatory Properties
Beets and beet juice are a rich source of betalains. Betalains are phytonutrients shown to help reduce inflammation in the body. They function by lessening the activity of certain enzymes that can trigger inflammation.

In vitro studies suggest that decreased inflammation from beetroot juice may have the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

High in Nitrate

Beets are an amazing source of concentrated nitrate and other nutrients are shown to improve your health and fitness. Research indicates that approximately 80 percent of dietary nitrates come from vegetables like beetroot.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the following chart will be helpful in selecting vegetables according to their level of nitrate:

Nitrate content (mg/100g fresh weight) Vegetable Varieties
Very low, <20 Artichoke, asparagus, broad bean, eggplant, garlic, onion, green bean, mushroom, pea, pepper, potato, summer squash, sweet potato, tomato, watermelon
Low, 20 to <50 Broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, pumpkin, chicory
Middle, 50 to <100 Cabbage, dill, turnip, savoy cabbage
High, 100 to <250 Celeriac, Chinese cabbage, endive, fennel, kohlrabi, leek, parsley
Very high, >250 Celery, cress, chervil, lettuce, red beetroot, spinach, rocket (rucola)

A Word From Verywell

The nitrate found in beets and other foods can be metabolized into nitric oxide (NO) shown to enhance athletic performance and improve cardiovascular health. The strength of the evidence indicates nitrate-rich plant foods and especially beets to provide significant health benefits.

Beets can be consumed by cooking the vegetable, drinking the juice, or even through a dehydrated powdered supplement. Enjoying a glass of beetroot juice before your next workout may just provide the boost you need.

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