This is an interesting and fun topic. Some of you may have heard of this or seen beetroot juice products for sale claiming many things. Is there truth to these claims? Let’s find out.
What it can do
There are two important and related results of consuming beetroot juice. One, it has been shown to reduce blood pressure. This is important for those who struggle with high blood pressure and in older populations. Two, it can make you more efficient. When I say this, I mean this. Efficiency gets thrown around a lot. “That runner has an efficient running form,” or “That runner needs to work on their form to become more efficient.” There is no way of knowing this by looking at someone and I plan to write a post on “Efficiency.” This is because efficiency is the number of calories (energy) it takes to work (exercise). Just because you look efficient, doesn’t mean you are efficient. On the other hand, beetroot juice truly has been shown to make people more efficient, meaning the energy cost to exercise was lower. To scientists, this is absolutely fascinating! In almost all circumstances, the amount of energy to perform work remains (relatively) constant. You go run at a 9 min/mi pace one day for 4 miles and you will burn a certain amount of calories. If you repeat this a couple days later in identical conditions, the energy used will be the same. But if you consume beetroot juice, the energy can be lower to do the same amount of work!
A little bit of the science
Beetroot juice contains a large amount of nitrates. Nitrate is converted to nitrite which is converted to nitric oxide which is a powerful vasodilator (opens up blood vessels). It is also thought that nitric oxide may play a role in the skeletal muscle performing the work by increasing its efficiency; how is still debated. The important thing to remember is that it is nitrate that is important and not necessarily beetroot juice. You can eat other vegetable sources including dark leafy greens.
Does bacon work?
I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone has examined that yet. Beetroot juice is a more healthy long term supplement anyways.
All that said, beetroot juice remains the most common form to supplement nitrate. Current recommendations state that you should consume 500 ml (the size of a normal plastic water bottle) 2-3 hours before a workout as this is when levels peak. Nitrite levels will decline and return to normal pre-supplement levels after 6-9 hours. In order to continually keep nitrite levels high in your system, you need to drink 500 ml twice daily (morning and evening). So you better like beets!
Who benefits the most?
The more endurance trained you are, the less likely a large effect. Scientists speculate that if you are endurance trained, you are already eating a healthy diet with vegetables that contain nitrate. Another reason may be that the response is minimal since you already have “maxed out” the beneficial adaptations to endurance training already. The only way to truly know is to be tested, but that is expensive. The good thing is that there are no known adverse effects. That said, studies need to investigate any possible adverse effects of long-term supplementation.
Nitrate is converted to nitrite by bacteria in your mouth! If you use mouth wash (and/or possibly gum) you kill off these bacteria and do not get the benefits! I’ll repeat that since it is important. If you use mouth wash or chew gum, you will likely not benefit from the supplement. You can still brush your teeth, but hold off on the stronger bacteria killing products.
Your urine and feces will be red-ish. Knowing this before you go is good so you don’t freak out.
It is my professional opinion, that if you want to try it then try it. If you can stomach the taste then use it and see how you feel. Test it yourself and try to control the conditions. Even if you are endurance trained, it is worth a try. The elite athletes that studies have examined are likely more fit than anyone reading this. We are talking about athletes with a VO2max of 70-80 ml/kg/min. This endurance level usually means you a paid endurance athlete or maybe an Olmypian. (See earlier post to learn more about the importance VO2max.)
Contact me if you want to know more or have any questions!
References and further scientific reading:
- Boorsma RK, Whitfield J, Spriet LL. Beetroot juice supplementation does not improve performance of elite 1500-m runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(12):2326-2334. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000364.
- Burke LM. To beet or not to beet? J Appl Physiol. 2013;115:311-312. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00612.2013.
- Christensen PM, Nyberg M, Bangsbo J. Influence of nitrate supplementation on VO₂ kinetics and endurance of elite cyclists. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013;23(1):e21-31. doi:10.1111/sms.12005.
- Larsen FJ, Schiffer T a, Borniquel S, et al. Dietary inorganic nitrate improves mitochondrial efficiency in humans. Cell Metab. 2011;13(2):149-159. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2011.01.004.
- Larsen FJ, Weitzberg E, Lundberg JO, Ekblom B. Dietary nitrate reduces maximal oxygen consumption while maintaining work performance in maximal exercise. Free Radic Biol Med. 2010;48(2):342-347. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2009.11.006.
- Nair KS, Irving B a., Lanza IR. Can dietary nitrates enhance the efficiency of mitochondria? Cell Metab. 2011;13(2):117-118. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2011.01.013.
- Pawlak-Chaouch M, Boissiere J, Gamelin FX, Cuvelier G, Berthoin S, Aucouturier J. Effect of dietary nitrate supplementation on metabolic rate during rest and exercise in human: A systematic review and a meta-analysis. Nitric Oxide. 2016;53:65-76. doi:10.1016/j.niox.2016.01.001.
- van Loon L, Stephens F, Jones AM, et al. Sports Nutrition Conference London/Oxford 2012. In: Sports Nutrition. ; 2012:1-24.
- Whitfield J, Ludzki A, Heigenhauser GJF, et al. Beetroot juice supplementation reduces whole body oxygen consumption but does not improve indices of mitochondrial efficiency in human skeletal muscle. J Physiol. 2016;594(2):421-435. doi:10.1113/JP270844.