Athletes at both the elite and everyday level are prepared to try almost any newfangled product if it promises a performance boost, and the supplements that produce the best results can often be surprising. Beetroot juice sounds out of place in the acronym-laden realms of top-level sport, but its benefits to endurance mean it is a favourite for cyclists in particular, and Leicester City players partook of the red stuff as they charged to the Premier League title last season.
Beetroot’s benefits mean it has also gone mainstream, with Coach spotting many amateur athletes drinking it ahead of the recent Royal Parks Half Marathon. Intrigued by this development, Coach asked Dietitian and BDA Spokesperson Aisling Pigott about the power of beets.
Does beetroot juice boost sporting performance?
This area of research has revealed interesting results, but it is ongoing. It has become apparent that supplementation of dietary nitrates – beetroot juice is very high in dietary nitrates – CAN improve endurance, long-distance capacity; the ability to complete a race. However, it is less likely to improve short, sharp performance. So drinking beetroot juice before the half marathon might have helped some athletes.
How does beetroot boost endurance?
Dietary nitrates appear to have a role in increasing muscle efficiency and reducing the “energy cost of exercise”. This may allow us to exercise at a higher intensity with the same level of effort/energy.
Is there any downside to drinking beetroot juice?
While it’s lovely to see food products being used as supplements, it begs the question: would the same benefits be seen from eating lots of green leafy vegetables, which are also high in dietary nitrates? There are no known side effects, but some people may suffer from a stomach upset. Beetroot juice can turn urine a red colour, which is harmless. There is little known about risks at higher levels, but it’s best to err on the side of caution as there will be little long-term data available.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.