Ingredient Spotlight: Beetroot

Believe it or not, beetroot has actually been studied pretty extensively for its ergogenic effects. The role of beetroot in increasing performance is primarily attributed to its naturally high nitrate content. Nitric oxide increases blood flow and reduces blood pressure. For this reason, it is often an ingredient in pump products. Aside from this, beetroot is simply a very 'healthy' food choice, as we will go on to discuss.

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Nitric Oxide Boosting Properties

Nitric oxide (NO) is incredibly important in the process of vasodilation, the dilation (widening) of blood vessels, thereby increasing blood flow. This process is needed in everyday life for homeostasis, but is especially important during exercise to deliver oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. During and after exercise, the recovery process may be enhanced by increasing the rate at which waste products are removed.

There are several ingredients to look out for in pre-workout products which come under the bracket of 'nitric oxide boosters', including citrulline and arginine, but some people would rather avoid these in place of food-sourced alternatives. Beetroot juice (this could be substituted for food or powder) has been shown to increase plasma nitrate during physical exercise, for a natural option.

Other foods to boost NO:

  • leafy greens
  • cress
  • spirulina

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Studies

A slight improvement in time trial performance on both running and bicycling has been seen with beetroot supplementation. Furthermore, in tests that measure time to exhaustion, beetroot juice appears to be associated with an anti-fatigue effect and prolongation of exercise performance. A recent study on team sport players concluded that dietary Nitric Oxide supplementation (with beetroot juice) improves performance during intense intermittent exercise and may be a useful ergogenic aid for team sports players (Wylie et al., 2013). Another, on cyclists, found that a single oral dose of inorganic nitrate acutely reduces VO(2peak)without compromising the maximal exercise performance (Bescós et al., 2010). These human studies, especially on athletic populations, are incredibly valuable for our understanding of the role of beetroot as a source of nitric oxide for exercise performance.

To summarise- whether you are training for performance or simply chasing 'the pump', we can see a lot of potential value in trying beetroot out for yourself before a session!

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Other Health Benefits

Beetroot is high vitamin C, which positively affects NO production. This is because nitric oxide breaks down quickly in the bloodstream, vitamin C limits breakdown by protecting against free radicals. This can make beetroot a superior nitric oxide booster to taking something like l-cirtrulline on its own.

Beetroot is naturally high in the amino acid betaine, which plays a key role in a healthy heart, and may help to improve body composition. A 2013 study on experienced strength trained men found improved body composition, arm size, bench press work capacity with betaine supplementation (Cholewa et al., 2013). Betaine is pretty new to the sport supplement scene, but has been getting a lot of attention recently. Look out for it added to supplements such as RedCon1 Tango.

It also has a high fibre content, alongside folate and minerals such as potassium!

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Recommendations

100g beetroot comes in at around the 40 calorie mark. We would recommend pairing it with your pre-workout meal for best results. It is, however, a distinctive taste and not everyone likes it. Thankfully, supplement brands have picked up on this and made things easier!

For a pure Beetroot Supplement, we recommend: Optimum Health Beetroot

A supplement which uses beetroot in its formula for its benefits is: Warrior Pump, a blend of complimentary ingredients to maximise blow flow to the working muscles when training.

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References

Bescós, R., Rodríguez, F., Iglesias, X., Ferrer, M. and Pons, A. (2010). Acute Administration of Inorganic Nitrates Reduces VO2 peak in Endurance Athletes. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 49, p.S109.

Cholewa, J., Wyszczelska-Rokiel, M., Glowacki, R., Jakubowski, H., Matthews, T., Wood, R., Craig, S. and Paolone, V. (2013). Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), p.39.

Wylie, L., Mohr, M., Krustrup, P., Jackman, S., Ermιdis, G., Kelly, J., Black, M., Bailey, S., Vanhatalo, A. and Jones, A. (2013). Dietary nitrate supplementation improves team sport-specific intense intermittent exercise performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(7), pp.1673-1684.

 

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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