Beetroot juice has certainly gained popularity in athletics. Walk around any race expo and you’ll likely seen a stand promoting it. But what exactly is beetroot juice? And will it really improve performance? Read on to find out!
The excitement around beetroot juice is due to the amount of nitrate that it contains. Beyond beetroot, nitrate is found naturally in a wide variety of vegetables and some fruits, such as:
- Chinese cabbage
- Bok choy
Note that the naturally occurring nitrate found in the plants above is very different than the sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite that you may have heard is linked with cancer. These are food additives commonly used in processed meats such as bacon or hot dogs.
When we consume nitrates (the natural plant ones), they are turned into nitric oxide in our stomach and mouth. Nitric oxide opens up blood vessels so more oxygen can get to our muscles. This is in turn improves performance. However, performance benefits aren’t guaranteed, and it seems to work better for novice athletes than high calibre athletes.
Want to give it a try? For the most promising results, aim for 300-600 mg of nitrate about 2-2.5 hours before your event. You can also consider “pre-loading” for additional benefits by taking this amount of nitrate for the 3-5 days leading up to an event. The product that I most commonly see used is “Beet-It” juice, which contains 400 mg/shot. Since bacteria in the mouth help convert the nitrate to nitric oxide, you’ll want to avoid chewing gum or using mouthwash since this reduces bacteria in the mouth.
The only caution with using beetroot juice is that some people can experience stomach upset. As always, try it out in training before implementing in competition!