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Beetroot Juice – Sports Nutrition Benefits

There is no shortage of supplements on the market often making quite remarkable claims but how ‘true’ are these claims. Many times the supplement fails to live up to the hype or the supplement’s use has been taken out of context meanwhile though the supplement has made some good sales for the owner.

So lets consider what beetroot juice has to offer us. Rather than re-hash information I am going to refer you to Sports Dietitians Australia’s fact sheet that provides a good overview of this supplement. I have also provided a link to a journal article that provides further information. I am going to highlight what should be considered when thinking about using beetroot juice or dietary nitrate for sports performance.

SDA Fact Sheet on Beetroot Juice

Journal article on Beetroot Juice

Muggeridge, David J.; Howe, Christopher C. F.; Spendiff, Owen et al (2013) A Single Dose of Beetroot Juice Enhances Cycling Performance in Simulated Altitude, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vol 46(1), p 143–150, doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a1dc51

Factors to consider

Why do individuals choose to take beetroot juice for their sports performance?

In short because beetroot juice contains dietary nitrate which can be converted into nitrite in the body and then onto nitric oxide. These compounds can influence physiological changes such as vasodilation to increase blood flow, influence muscle contraction, regulate cellular (mitochondrial) respiration and calcium homeostasis. What it means for the athlete is that it can reduce the oxygen demand (‘oxygen sparing effect’) of exercise such as at submaximal exercise intensity and potentially improve the tolerance of high intensity exercise. The mechanisms of how dietary nitrate has these effects are not yet clearly understood.

There are many factors that need to be considered, apart from the fact that you will get nice coloured urine after you drink it and coloured teeth, before you go to grab that nice tasting juice from the shelf at the shops. These include:

  • Right dose – it appears that approximately 5-6 mmol of nitrate provides an effect however specific recommendations for individuals and different sporting situations is not clear.
  • Timing of intake – is acute or chronic intake more effective, likely varies for the individual and the sporting situation. Peak changes in nitrite levels occur in approximately 2-3 hours. For endurance sports it may be of benefit to consuming nitrate 2-3 hours pre-exercise but also further ingestion during exercise.
  • Trained vs untrained effects – the more elite the individual the more likely they may not respond or at least may not respond as much compared to a less well trained individual.
  • Responder vs non- responder effect – dependent on how the individual responds to consuming the nitrate rich dietary supplement, how much does their plasma nitrite levels raise. There appears to be a correlation with the change in plasma nitrite and the change in exercise performance. It has been reported that an increase of 30% of plasma nitrite appears to be what may influence the exercise performance effect for an individual (Wilkerson et al 2012).
  • Sporting situation – does it matter how long the exercise duration and the intensity and modality. It has been shown to have a positive performance effect in individuals exercising at altitude.
  • You also need to consider the magnitude of the performance effect and whether this is important and relevant for you.

Have I simplified it for you, probably not, and the reason because as with many sports supplements it depends on the context and we often require more research.

Is it worth trialing it?

I recommend discussing with your Sports Dietitian to see if it may be of relevant and benefit to you and if it is then how you should take it.

Stephanie Gaskell is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, an Accredited Sports Dietitian, and a competitive Ultra Trail Marathon Runner. She is available for Phone and Skype Consultations, and has published the FODMAP™ & Gluten Status Sports Supplement Guide.

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