A REAL 'SUPER FOOD'
Beetroot juice contains a molecule called nitrate, which when consumed, is converted inside of the body to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a ubiquitous (see below for definition) signalling molecule and has various effects on the body including the regulation of blood flow, muscle contractility, and mitochondrial activity inside of your cells (remember the mitochondria are responsible for producing energy - so the more you have and the better they function, the better you are at producing energy when you need it)! These things may not sound like much but in real-life terms, studies have shown nitric oxide can help with fatigue resistance, improving blood flow to muscles, exercise efficiency, exercise capacity, and overall exercise performance.
A 2017 study found that 6 days of beetroot juice ingestion effectively improved high-intensity intermittent exercise performance in trained soccer players, showing an average of 3.5% improvement in players who’d taken beetroot juice compared to those who had not. Three and a half percent might sound like much, but imagine being able to perform that little bit better to turn and chase a through-ball and get to it before the sweeper does and score the game winning goal!
In real-world terms even a 0.6% performance improvement is considered significant – and for something that’s legal, easy to drink, and pretty much no negative side effects, this one is almost a no brain-er! As odd as it may sound for beetroot to have these awesome benefits, we aren’t just making it up! It is considered a Group A Performance Supplement by the Australian Institute of Sport and there are heaps of other scientific studies besides the one we mentioned to back these claims up!
Any WWE fans out there will know the legendary Rick Flair - what you might not know is that he is ALWAYS being misquoted! It’s really:
“TO BE THE MAN, YOU GOTTA BEET THE MAN!”
- RICK FLAIR
(WWE HALL OF FAME & MASSIVE BEETROOT FAN)
Current recommendations to aid in high-intensity intermittent exercise performance are to load up on it for 6 days prior to the goal event. Studies recommend taking anywhere from ~300-800mg nitrate, with good sources being plant-based foods, especially beetroot. The best way to get it is in beetroot concentrate shots: 2 x 70ml shots per day, morning and evening, and you’re done! Much easier than drinking half a litre of juice or munching down a heap of beetroots every day! 😉 Other studies have been done to investigate various methods of dosing beetroot juice, but the most evidence of effective use is with the protocol described here!
As mentioned, there has been some research into using a single, acute dose of beetroot juice between 30–90 mins prior to exercise, but most of the beneficial effects have been seen with loading 3-6 days prior to the desired event, and taking the supplement in one or two doses per day. These doses don’t necessarily need to be taken pre- or post-exercise.
As with all other supplements, it’s smart to test out your individual timing and tolerance levels before using it on gameday! ⚖️
When using beetroot juice you should avoid things like antibacterial mouthwash or gum prior to the juice, as they reduce the bacteria available in the mouth that help turn the nitrate in beetroot into the nitric oxide your body uses! That being said, there are pretty much no negative side effects associated with the consumption of beetroot juice and you’re not very likely to react poorly to it unless you’re unlucky enough to have some sort of freak-occurrence beetroot intolerance – BUT don’t be alarmed if you do see some Thanos-themed by-products in the toilet bowl after you go… the purple-pink-ish colour of the beetroot juice often goes all the way through. 😐
Nitrates aren’t just found in beetroot juice - you may have seen them in the media or extremely credible ‘news’ sources like A Current Affair 😐 - in relation to them being quite damaging to health. Sometimes nitrates get a bad wrap when they are added to meats during the curing process or to prevent meat spoiling (like in ham, bacon, frankfurters, etc) and in these circumstances this is due to their potential to form unwanted compounds called nitrosamines.
Nitrosamines can indeed have negative health effects under SOME circumstances (like if you live off large amounts of cured ham and hotdogs - not recommended). Not to worry however, research has been done into nitrate supplementation and scientists have found no difference in levels of these harmful molecules with non-hotdog based nitrate supplements. 😉
Typically nitrates occur in high levels naturally in vegetables, such as the main supplemental form: Beetroot! It is thought that the beneficial antioxidants that go along with the vegetables (i.e. beetroot) are preventing formation of unwanted nitrosamines. Just another great reason to eat your veggies! 🌿