Dwight Schrute and I have one major thing in common. Our passion for beets. Although I don’t own a beet farm, there is always a supply of beets in my cupboard. I’ll admit that part of this love for beets was my perception that they improve performance. However, I never looked past the headlines to see for myself if beets actually do improve performance, and if so, how?
It’s not the beets themselves that are thought to have performance enhancing effects but rather the nitrate contained within the beets. How does nitrate work to improve performance? After nitrate is consumed it’s converted to nitrite. Under conditions of low oxygen (i.e. muscle during exercise), nitrite is converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide causes vasodilation to increase blood flow, regulates muscle contraction and glucose uptake. The overall effect is a reduced energy cost of exercise, thereby improving exercise efficiency.
Research consistently shows that long-term consumption (2-15 days) of 300-500mg of nitrate per day can increase performance. However, before you start juicing beets, this improvement in performance has not been shown for all exercise but just high-intensity exercise lasting about 5-30 minutes. There is limited evidence that nitrate is beneficial for exercise lasting longer than 40 minutes.
If you do decide to start including more nitrate in your diet, beets are certainly not the only source. They are not the only good source of nitrate.
- 1 cup raw spinach= 900 mg of nitrate
- 300 grams beets (about 6)= 500 mg of nitrate
- ½ cup cooked collard greens= 200 mg of nitrate
- 1 cup raw lettuce= 100 mg of nitrate
Eating foods high in nitrate may cause gut discomfort and discoloration of urine. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that thought they were dying after the first time they ate beets. There has been concerned over the safety of consuming high amounts of nitrates and nitrites. This is associated with the consumption of cured and processed meats since nitrates and nitrites are added to these foods. However, expert consensus is that nitrate supplementation with vegetable products is unlikely to be harmful.
I guess my excessive consumption of beets may have been having less of a performance enhancing benefit then I thought since my races last longer than 40 minutes. However, I doubt I’ll be giving them up soon. Checkout my recipe for sweet-potato and beet hummus, and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with beets too!
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