Is it true that beetroot juice helps improve running performance?

Here, for example, beets. Ten years ago, scientists suggested that beet juice improved aerobic function and exercise performance. A beetroot boom began among athletes and enthusiasts, and experts conducted a lot of research.

Does beet juice work or not? How much, how and when to drink it? Or is it still not worth it? To find out, we analyzed 30 studies and found conflicting results.

why it works

There should be mundane information about the heart and blood vessels, but you already know everything. The most interesting thing happens inside the ship. Its inner layer, the endothelium, is made up of cells sensitive to nitric oxide (NO).

With an increase in the concentration of NO, the endothelium acts on the muscle cells of the walls of the vessels, relaxing them and thereby increasing the lumen of the vessel. As a result, the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues is increased, helping them do their job.

In healthy people, the body produces enough nitric oxide to regulate blood pressure and maintain optimal vascular lumen. But under intense loads, nitric oxide may not have time to develop in sufficient quantities.

With a lack of endogenous NO (produced by the body) or the need to urgently expand the vessels, nitrate preparations are used, which release nitric oxide into the body. The most famous of these is nitroglycerin, which is used for angina pectoris.

Beet juice contains organic nitrates which, when converted into nitric oxide, dilate blood vessels, and improve microcirculation and nutrient supply. They also lower blood pressure and thus improve exercise tolerance.

Why it does not work

Beet juice does not contain the active substance – nitric oxide – in its pure form. And it can’t contain, because it’s a gas. It contains precursors – compounds from which everything is synthesized in the body, including nitric oxide, which dissolves in the blood and affects the endothelium.

In the case of beet juice, nitrates are broken down into more accessible forms by salivary bacteria, these simple forms are absorbed, and NO is released inside the body. So only a few types of bacteria can break down nitrates, but no one knows if you have them and how many. Most people have them.

Based on the previous one, the longer the juice is in the mouth, the more time the bacteria will have to break down into nitrates and the more noticeable the result will be. They are absorbed through the lining of the mouth, so for effect, beetroot juice should be savored like a ten-year-old dry red. Not everyone likes the taste of raw beets so much.

The main effect of nitrates is to lower blood pressure. If you tend to low blood pressure, be careful.

According to studies, the minimum effective dose is 140 ml. Most studies in which there was no improvement with exercise were conducted with 70ml of juice. For a noticeable effect, you need 300 ml. Again, 300ml fresh beetroot juice.

Beetroot and its juice is a laxative. Sorry for the details, but this is an important disclaimer.

What happens anyway?

Beet juice nitrates, like all others, primarily affect the venous system. Veins of all diameters expand, the return of venous blood to the heart decreases, and blood pressure decreases. A somewhat strange situation turns out: there is more blood in the tissues, but the oxygen saturation of the tissues does not change (studies: one, two, three).

Another nuance is the time taken to transform the active form of nitric oxide into the bound inactive form. It’s short, and with the charges it decreases even more. Not enough for a marathon.

In the study, athletes ran 10 km and time was measured for both 5 km and 10 km. After taking the juice, the time for 5 km improved, but not for 10 km.

The next nuance is the intensity of the load. The improvement in results after taking beet juice is noticeable with maximum and submaximal loads, but not with medium loads.

Most studies show no subjective improvement in exercise tolerance, which means you’ll have just as much trouble running as if you had no juice.

In studies of sick people, beet juice was much more likely to have a positive effect – lowering blood pressure, and improving well-being than when taken with healthy volunteers. Apparently, because in trained healthy people, the vessels are already quite elastic and do their job well.

To drink or not to drink?

The bottom line is, if you’re not allergic to beets, beet juice is perfectly safe, and in most cases, the worst thing that can happen is that you don’t have a bodily injury (and that locked yourself in the closet for a long time). Otherwise, you must soberly assess the possibilities and limitations.

If you have elderly parents with hypertension, they are definitely worth trying, preferably in long courses (at least a week).

If you want to improve your results during a short run (about 5 km) or another intense short-term load, the result is also very likely. For a long-term load like a marathon – hardly.

If you tend to low blood pressure, be very careful.

In any case, it is better to experiment before the competition at a practice run near the house. So it turns out both tolerance and efficacy.

How to drink?

  • 2-3 hours before exercise.
  • At least 140 ml (preferably 300, even better 400). More than 500 doesn’t make sense.
  • Fresh juice from fresh beets. Or stored frozen juice. The study showed that the nitrates in the juice are destroyed within a day at a temperature of 25 degrees. And after 4 days at 4 degrees. Another study found that cooking destroys half of the pigments, probably the same happens with nitrates, so fresh or lightly steamed beet juice is needed.
  • Do not brush your teeth or drink water for at least half an hour after drinking beet juice. This gives the bacteria time to make the nitrates more useful and digestible.

Is it possible to eat a nitroglycerin tablet instead of half a liter of beetroot juice?

No. The dose and absorption rate of the pharmaceutical preparation are designed to provide emergency relief in the event of an acute attack of angina pectoris. In a healthy person, this will lead to a sharp drop in blood pressure with unpredictable results – from a simple deterioration in well-being to fainting or collapse.

What is the result?

Beetroot juice can help improve performance by a few percent in short, intense runs (5km is optimal) if consumed correctly (fresh, drunk slowly 300-400ml).

It is not known if it will work specifically for you, but if the above conditions are met, the probability is greater than 50%.

The effect is more noticeable with regular long-term consumption (over a week).

If the prospect of constantly eating beet juice for breakfast isn’t encouraging, or if you have an individual intolerance, nitrates are found in many vegetables and herbs. For example, in arugula, spinach, lettuce and radishes there is more than in beets, and in Chinese cabbage – a little less. A healthy and varied diet certainly does not hurt. Do not forget that for a noticeable effect you need at least 500 grams of products containing nitrates.

PS The nitrates mentioned in the article are not at all the nitrates that are used to fertilize the fields, and which we are afraid of and try not to eat.