What is the connection between beetroots and athlete performance? Do you know why it is the most talked about supplement for athletes?
Let’s understand what this bright-colored antioxidant-rich tuberous root contains and what makes it a useful supplement for athletes!
Beets are a source of carbohydrates and have a high amount of inorganic nitrates (natural), which are converted to nitrites and absorbed into the bloodstream. Under low oxygen availability (‘hypoxia’), nitrites are converted to nitrous oxide (NO).
Nitrous oxide (NO) is active in the blood and tissues, which enhances a lot of physiological functions. It is mainly a vasodilator, which widens the blood vessels and increases the flow of blood, in particular, to the muscles to improve exercise performance without the need for oxygen. Studies have shown that NO reduced VO2 max, increased glucose uptake, and enhanced muscle activity (contraction and relaxation), which eventually improved energy efficiency, and increased the time to fatigue or exhaustion.
Pic credits: Domínguez et al (2017)
Athletes, involved in various sports for long periods, depend on the energy produced dominantly through the aerobic system or aerobic glycolysis. Availability of NO in the bloodstream will improve the cardiorespiratory factors (endurance) and muscle function. Supplementation with beetroot juice helps, when taken as pre-workout/event, which improves the performance of athletes throughout the timing of sport.
Let’s look at what few studies convey about beetroot juice supplementation on athlete performance:
- In a systematic review (Domínguez et.al., 2017), the effect of beetroot supplementation was observed on cardiorespiratory endurance performance in normal and hypoxic conditions in trained endurance athletes. In normal conditions (normoxia), supplementation enhanced aerobic performance by reducing the VO2 max at intensities (60-100%) and increasing energy efficiency. In various studies with hypoxic conditions (hypoxia), different athletes (cycling, runners) training at a simulated high altitude (above sea level where oxygen supply is lowered) showed supplementation could help improve performance.
- In another review by Domínguez et al., (2018), it was observed that one-time or a few days of supplementation (dose ranging from ~5–11.4 mmol) might improve performance with short rest periods in 120 different athletes (9 studies). This improvement is due to the delay in the depletion of phosphocreatine and its resynthesis occurs at a faster rate during repetitive exercise bouts.
- In one of the studies (Mosher et al.), supplementation with beetroot juice for 6 days showed an increase in the repetitions of bench press sets (~19% increase in performance).
- A systematic review by Zamani et al., (2020), showed that short-term or single dose of beetroot juice supplementation in recreationally active men improved their performance and helped in quick recovery.
The supplementation dose depends on the type and duration of sport. To have the ergogenic effect of beetroot juice, it is suggested to be consumed at least 150–180 minutes before the event at a dose of 6-8 mmol. A slightly higher dose might be required for high-performance athletes (Domínguez et.al., 2017).
Numerous studies have shown that NO reduces blood pressure and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells all over the body. In line with the observed improvement in endurance performance, it might also have a positive effect on the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease. But, more significant studies are yet to be known.
Also, high consumption of beetroot juice (nitrate levels) reaching above the acceptable daily intake can lead to an increase in the nitrosation rate, forming other nitro-compounds that could be carcinogenic. More research is needed to know to understand the effect of supplementation for both short and long periods of time and carcinogenic risk. It is always advisable to use beetroot supplementation with caution in athletes.
Author: Praveena Kuchipudi (INFS Faculty)
- Arazi, H. and Eghbali, E. (2021) ‘Possible Effects of Beetroot Supplementation on Physical Performance Through Metabolic, Neuroendocrine, and Antioxidant Mechanisms: A Narrative Review of the Literature’, Frontiers in Nutrition, 8, p. 221. doi: 10.3389/FNUT.2021.660150/BIBTEX.
- Domínguez, R. et al. (2017) ‘Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review’, Nutrients, 9(1). doi: 10.3390/NU9010043.
- Domínguez, R. et al. (2018) ‘Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent high-intensity exercise efforts’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1). doi: 10.1186/S12970-017-0204-9.
- Peeling, P. et al. (2019) ‘Sports Foods and Dietary Supplements for Optimal Function and Performance Enhancement in Track-and-Field Athletes’, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), pp. 198–209. doi: 10.1123/IJSNEM.2018-0271.
- Zamani, H. et al. (2020) ‘The benefits and risks of beetroot juice consumption: a systematic review’, https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2020.1746629, 61(5), pp. 788–804. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2020.1746629.