In Beetroot Juice We Believe

According to an impressive amount of quality research, beetroot juice could help you run 1 to 2 per cent faster in 5Ks to marathons. That might not sound like much, but it’s actually a big boost. Enough that I’d be surprised if most elite distance runners haven’t given beet products a try by now.

Australian Louise Burke, one of the world’s most esteemed endurance nutritionists, has written an “Invited Editorial” in the Journal of Applied Physiology to offer her perspective on beetroot-enhanced performance. She admits that she was highly skeptical at first, but has been largely won over by the accumulating evidence.

However, she also reminds us of one curiosity, and raises another that I hadn’t previously heard. First, beetroots get their endurance power, if you will, from helpful mouth bacteria that convert the nitrate in beetroots to nitric oxide, which appears to be the miracle substance. Nitric oxide can substantially lower blood pressure, and somehow extend endurance. But if you use certain antibacterial mouthwashes or gums, you might lose the potential benefit of beetroots.

Second, and this is the new stuff, the most power-packed beets will be those planted in fields that are covered with commercial, nitrate-rich fertilisers. As Burke notes, “This is somewhat ironic, and in contrast to many of the boutique fruit/vegetable juices coming to market.” Many runners, myself included, choose to buy organic fruit and vegetables when we can.

Organic or not, you might want to increase your consumption of beetroots and other high-nitrate vegetables like spinach, rocket and rhubarb. As Burke says: “Beetroot juice supplementation might provide substantial benefits to health and daily function.”

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