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Can beetroot juice improve athletic performance?

The beets, unloved vegetables mostly because it is unknown, hide in their hearts nutrients that are believed to bring undeniable benefits. In recent years, a growing number of amateur and professional athletes started incorporating beets juice in their diets, just like watermelon, in the hope of boosting their performances. But why do beets make so many hearts beat?

More efficient muscles

The theory goes as follows: beets are root vegetables that naturally contain high concentrations of nitrates. Therefore, their juice is a rich, concentrated source of nitrates. It is much easier to consume these nitrates in juice form rather than eating tons of beets.

In fact, it is not nitrates that athletes look for, but rather the impact of nitric oxide (NO)—a molecule created by the body when it breaks down nitrates. Nitric oxide makes muscle cells more efficient. When present, cells need less oxygen to deliver the same amount of energy. For athletes, more efficient muscles are a great way to improve their performance.

But does it actually work?

Theory and practice don’t always go hand in hand—but in this case, it does seem that beetroot juice can help improve athletic performance.

Most studies on the topic have been conducted in a similar way. Overall, various amounts of beet juice are given to athletes and their performance is measured in a range of sporting events.

Drinking beet juice does actually increase nitric oxide levels in the blood and appears to be beneficial for athletes. Those who showed the greatest benefit were the ones who had consumed the greatest amount of juice for the greatest number of days ahead of the event. You've read right: several days beforehand. In some studies, participants were required to drink up to 500 ml (two cups) of beet juice per day for nearly a week.

Another important point: the benefits observed are relatively minimal. In the best cases, athletes’ performance improved by 2%. In a professional setting—where every second counts—beetroot juice may provide that edge. However, for anyone who engages in physical activity just for fun, this type of supplement seems unnecessary.

Did you know…?

Beets are grown locally in Quebec and they are available year-round as they keep for a very long time. From a nutritional standpoint, you can only gain by adding vegetables of different colours into your diet. Unless you are adamant about consuming beets in juice form only, beets can be boiled, steamed or baked. A vegetable that should not be ignored, at a price that can’t be... beat!