Do you love to exercise and push yourself every session? Do you try your best to eat natural foods like fruit and vegetables? Do you ever wonder if there might be something you could buy on the high street that is natural and can help to boost your performance?
You may have seen the word 'superfood' used to describe certain natural foodstuffs, a lot of the time it is a marketing ploy by the food industry and there is really nothing all that special about eating certain foods beyond helping to create a balanced and varied diet.
What if I told you that there is actually a vegetable that has so much scientific evidence behind its effectiveness on performance that it seems too good to be true? Maybe there is truth to calling it a superfood.
The humble glass of beetroot juice is gaining a lot of ground in the sports performance arena all the way up to elite level competition. What's particularly intriguing about beetroot juice is that it might be more effective for us regular folk who like to push ourselves, sometimes so much so that we end up resembling a beetroot, what with our purple faces after 40 minutes of TRX!
So... it sounds kind of cool but how does it work? It's only beetroot!
Beetroot and other vegetables such as basil and rhubarb are sources of dietary Nitrate (No3).
When we eat or drink our sources of Nitrate, it is broken down from No3 into No2 (Nitrite) and then into No (Nitric Oxide)
Nitric Oxide is the active compound that has some pretty special benefits to our health and performance including regulation of:
-Glucose and calcium handling
-Mitochondrial respiration (Fancy way of saying that it helps us use the cells that let us burn fat and get fitter)
The good news is that all of this stuff goes on without you knowing about it as we have natural body stores of Nitric Oxide already. When we factor in exercise though, all of the above processes need to be done to a much greater extent and so that's why having more Nitric Oxide in our systems has such a benefit.
You might be thinking, "Well, how much flipping beetroot do you expect me to eat! I'm not trying to be Mo Farah!"
Beetroot contains around 110 mg nitrate per 100 g. That would be around 2mmol of Nitrate.
Research has shown that ~5.6mmol - 8mmol of Nitrate provides significant performance improvements in high intensity cycling, rowing, skiiing and running.
In the real world that means you could eat about 4 beetroots and be right in the ballpark of where the evidence suggests.That might be a lot in the one go and your belly mightn't thank you afterwards, so luckily Beetroot juice such as 'Beet It' is widely available in supermarkets.
Approximately 500ml of Beetroot juice is used but there are concentrated 70ml bottles available with the same amount of Nitrate.
Look at the graph to find out which veggies have the most nitrates.
How much of a difference will it make?
Good question. We want results, right?
If you do endurance exercise
Research shows a decrease in the amount of oxygen needed to perform at steady state long distances when Beetroot juice is ingested. (Bailey, 2009)
The same study also showed a lower rate of perceived exertion at high intensity stages of endurance exercise such as during a climb or picking up more pace.
Murphy et al.(2012) reported that ‘recreationally fit’ adults completed a 5-km treadmill time trial faster after eating 200 g baked beetroot 75 min before exercise and the participants reported that the first half of the run felt much easier and the last half of the run was 5% faster!
What about High Intensity training like TRX, HIIT and Kettlebells?
Although there is limited research specific to TRX or Kettlebells, there are two studies that investigated interval training.
The first study measured performance in rowing intervals after 6 days of drinking 500ml of Beetroot Juice, where during the latter parts of the exhaustive testing there was an improvement of 1.7%.(Bond et al., 2012)
That doesn't seem like much but it would be pretty cool if you could get 1.7% better every week!
Before the dreaded Yo-Yo fitness test, recreational team sports players were given Beetroot juice and performed 4.2% better. As opposed to ingesting 500ml at one sitting, the participants consumed smaller doses throughout the day (2x 70ml the morning of the day before the test, 2x 70ml that evening, 2x 70ml 2.5hours before the test and 1 x 70ml 1.5hours before the test. (Wylie et al., 2013)
Beetroot Juice for 4 days after a muscle damaging repeated sprint training reduced muscle pain and had better effects on recovery of muscle function compared to placebo. These effects did not translate to improved recovery of sprint performance however. (Clifford et al., 2016)
So, Beetroot juice does have some positive effects on recovery but we can't expect it to do everything! Repeated sprints take a heck of a lot of resources to recover all performance!
What we know...
Evidence suggests that Beetroot juice is beneficial for both endurance and high intensity, intermittent exercise.
It is recommended that 500ml of Beetroot juice before exercise
or 1 x 70ml shot of concentrated juice will produce the most positive effects. Eating more rocket, rhubarb, basil and beetroot throughout your day will not only aid in creating a more varied and healthful diet, but will probably boost your performance too!
Nitrate can also lower blood pressure so it may confer health benefits in that respect but always consult with a physician if you suffer with hypertensive disorder.