Login | November 26, 2020

Beet it

Pete’s World

Published: November 9, 2020

As a coach I’ve never been one to…er…beat the drum publicly in support of any one particular food as an ergogenic aid unless there’s bonafied scientific data out there to support it. So despite all the positive hubbub that’s surrounding the beet, I still couldn’t totally commit to jumping aboard the beet bandwagon without having first reviewed some pretty reliable––and affirming––peer-reviewed data.
So let’s take a quick look at what sports scientists have said about this utterly unglamorous root vegetable regarding its use as a performance enhancing aid.
Before I begin though, I’ve got to be honest and admit that most endurance athletes are on a never-ending hunt for substances (preferably legal) that are purported to impart a performance edge.
Some of these substances border on the ridiculous and are near universally poo-pooed, while other substances are being looked at as evidence-based aids suitable for athletes to train with. Well, currently the humble beet has been residing in that latter group.
Now even from a non-athletic perspective, the wide range of possible health benefits linked to this vegetable sound pretty impressive: Reduces blood pressure, improves digestion, lowers the risk of diabetes and functions as an antioxidant.
What’s more, there’s even suggestions that the nitrates in beets may help to increase cardiovascular health in old age. So even if you’re not an athlete, these are still some pretty good reasons to eat beets.
Yet it’s in the athletic realm where beet product consumption is really causing all the hubbub. That’s because beets offer a rich supply of nitrates and betalains, and it’s these two compounds that researchers are alleging help the body to transfer oxygen to muscles more efficiently and aid in muscle contraction. If true that’s some pretty heavy stuff.
As a result I’ve been giving my google machine a pretty good little workout trying to come up with some solid scientific data not hearsay, innuendo and infomercials that supports the efficacy of all these “beet it” claims you see in fitness publications.
Here’s what I found in chronological order.
In the October 2009 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology is the article “Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans” where researchers “hypothesized that dietary supplementation with inorganic nitrate in the form of beetroot juice (BR) would reduce the O2 cost of submaximal exercise and enhance the tolerance to high-intensity exercise.” In the end these researchers concluded that beet juice does indeed improve time to exhaustion during exercise and reduce the oxygen cost of exercise.
In the June 2011 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise is the article “Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance” where researchers, again using beet juice, concluded that “acute dietary nitrate supplementation with 0.5 L of BR improves cycling economy, as demonstrated by a higher PO for the same VO2 and enhances both 4- and 16.1-km cycling TT performance.”
In the January 29, 2014 issue of Nutrients is a research piece entitled “Effect of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Aerobic Response during Swimming,” Italian scientists found that “ BJS [beat juice supplementation] positively affects performance of swimmers as it reduces the AEC [aerobic energy cost] and increases the workload at anaerobic threshold.
On the October 28, 2020 Penn State News website ( https://news.psu.edu/story/341148/2015/01/19/research/beet-or-not-beet-researchers-test-theories-beet-juice-benefits) is a discussion of a 2015 study titled “To beet or not to beet?” In this study researchers at Penn State's Noll Laboratory concluded that beet juice “did not enhance muscle blood flow or vascular dilation during exercise.”
In the 2015 issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, a study entitled “Beetroot juice does not enhance altitude running performance in well-trained athletes,” also concluded that beet root juice had “no practically meaningful beneficial effect on time-trial performance.”
Okay, so you see the trend here. There are some studies that absolutely support the use of beet products as an ergogenic aide, while an equal number of other studies do not. And the list of such studies is very, very long indeed.
In my opinion, when all’s said and done, I’m inclined to believe that this issue still resides in the realm of inconclusive.
Disagree? Then you have a go at “beeting” the keys of your google machine.