You may have heard about supplementing with beetroot juice to improve your exercise performance – but how does it actually work?
What are nitrates?
Beets contain dietary nitrate, which can have positive effects on our vascular system. After consumption of nitrate, our bodies convert them to nitrites which raise plasma nitrite levels. During periods of low oxygen availability, such as during moderate to intense exercise, nitrite is converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide works to dilate our blood vessels, increase blood flow, and therefore provide more oxygen to the muscles. Overall, the research suggests that beetroot juice supplementation decreases blood pressure, decreases oxygen cost of exercise which may reduce fatigue, decreases the energy required for muscle contraction, and may improve performance. Another side benefit of supplementing with beetroot juice is the consumption of additional antioxidants which come from the vegetable.
How do I get them?
Nitrates are naturally available in whole foods such as spinach, chard, leafy greens, and beetroot. However, it may be difficult to consume enough vegetables prior to exercise in order meet the recommended amount of nitrate. Additionally, the amount of nitrate found in veggies may vary depending on where it is grown. Beetroot juice is a concentrated supplement which has a high nitrate content and is easily measurable for producers.
How do I supplement with beetroot juice?
Because nitrites are converted to nitric oxide in periods of limited oxygen availability, beetroot juice is most effective when taken before high intensity exercise lasting roughly 5-30 minutes. There are several supplements on the market, but roughly 8mmol or 500mg of nitrate should be consumed to reap the benefit of improved exercise performance. Beetroot juice supplement should be taken 2-3 hours prior to exercise to ensure nitrite levels are at their peak once exercise begins.
Who can benefit from beetroot juice?
Well trained athletes performing high intensity, short term exercise receive the most benefit from beetroot juice. Elite athletes do not always get as much of a benefit from nitrate compared to lesser trained athletes, with some studies showing only a small portion of elite athletes noting a response. Older populations may also benefit from supplementation of beetroot juice, as it increases blood flow and dilates blood vessels to improve high blood pressure. However, those taking beetroot juice supplements should refrain from mouthwash use or gum chewing after consumption. Nitrate breakdown begins with bacteria in the mouth, and both mouthwash and gum can prevent this breakdown.
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Andrew M. Jones, Sports Medicine 2014
Andrew M. Jones, Sports Science Exchange 2016