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Beetroot & Beetroot Juice for Enhanced Sports Performance

The latest scientific research has shown that beetroot and certain other vegetables can help to boost stamina and physical performance.  A recent study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that drinking beetroot juice enabled competitive-level cyclists to win more races; on average cyclists were 2.8% faster over a 4km distance and 2.7% faster over a 16km when they drank beetroot juice prior to competing in time trials.  This may appear like a small difference but as you all know, every second is crucial in the world of sport and it may be the difference between winning and being placed second of third!

The results of the study demonstrated that the juice made the cyclists’ muscles and cardio-vascular system run more efficiently since they had a higher power output for the same level of effort.  The research builds on a previous study which showed that drinking beetroot juice can boost stamina, allowing an individual to exercise for up to 16% longer.  
How does it work?

Vegetables take in nitrate through their roots in the soil, which is crucial to their growth. The chemical nitrate is converted to a gas called nitric oxide in the body after digestion of nitrate containing vegetables. The gas relaxes and widens blood vessels, thus aiding blood flow to muscles and body organs.  The vegetables reduce the amount of oxygen required by muscles, enabling them to work more efficiently.

The science shows most benefits in high-intensity exercise, typically lasting up to 30 minutes however many athletes “feel the difference” with endurance training also. The effect of these nitrate containing vegetables is most distinct 1-3 hours after consumption, but its benefit is still evident up to 24 hours afterwards.

Dietary Sources

Beetroot naturally contains very high levels of nitrate, which helps to relax and widen the blood vessels and thereby aid blood flow.   A drink of 250ml of beetroot juice or two beetroots have been found beneficial.  Recent studies have demonstrated that both single doses of beetroot juice prior to exercise and protocols of daily supplementation for 3-14 days are associated with a consistent enhancement of exercise economy (reduced oxygen cost of exercise).  Many of the studies to date used concentrated smaller volume “shots” of beetroot juice e.g. Beet It or Go Beet, which are available in most health food shops.

Other good dietary sources of nitrate containing vegetables include; lettuce, spinach, celery and rocket.  In addition, leek, parsley, cabbage, turnips, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower contain slightly lower levels of the active compound.

Important Notes
Some research papers and accompanying journal editorials have raised concerns about the potential for unknown side effects. Large amounts might not be suitable for those with abnormally low blood pressure levels as it can lower systolic blood pressure levels.  Since beets are high in oxalates, people who are prone to oxalate kidney stones may want to avoid beet juice. Beetroot juice sometimes causes mild tummy discomfort, particularly in the concentrated form or in larger volumes, therefore individual tolerance should be established. The consumption of beetroot or beetroot juice results in a temporary pink discoloration of urine and stools, but this is a harmless side-effect
Top Tips
  • Choose beetroot which are firm and free from holes, cracks or other blemishes that go deep into the beet.
  • Wash the beetroot under running water to remove any possible traces of patricides.
  • If you purchase beet juice, avoid products that contain added sugars or preservatives.
  • Store my beets in the refrigerator until ready for use.
Recipe – Beetroot & Berry Smoothie
  • 2 Beetroot, chopped (or 250ml beetroot juice)
  • 25g / ½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 100g / 2/3 cup strawberries
  • 1 mandarin orange peeled
  • 100ml low fat milk or unsweetened soya milk
  • 100ml water
Place in a blender or smoothie maker for 1 minute.
Makes aprox 500mls.
Nutrition Information per 500mls using Nutritics Analytical Software;
157 Calories, 29g Carbohydrate, 7.7g Protein, 2.1g Fat, 3.5g Fibre, 1022 mg Potassuim, 286microgrammes Folic Acid
Glycaemic Index 19 (low)

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