An ever-growing number of products on the market claim to enhance athletic performance by manipulating various biological systems and functions. A relatively new group of supplements use certain nitrates to improve muscular endurance, and these nitrates - in addition to several other beneficial compounds - are present in high concentrations in beet juice.
How effective is beet juice at increasing endurance, and how does it work?
Role of Nitrates
The nitrates contained in beet juice are converted by the body into a vital gas called nitric oxide. This should not be confused with nitrous oxide, which is laughing gas. Nitric oxide (NO) is produced by the body and acts as a neurotransmitter, meaning that it carries messages from the brain. These messages involve making sure that increased amounts of blood and oxygen reach the areas of the body that need them most.
The way NO operates makes it particularly well-suited for use as an athletic supplement. Picture it like this, as “The Walking Ecyclopedia” suggests: If you were trying to force a large amount of water through a narrow tube using only your breath, you’d probably struggle to provide enough pressure. But if you switched out the narrow tube for a wider one, your job would be much easier.
This is essentially what nitric oxide does. The gas expands and relaxes the blood vessels to increase the amount of blood - and therefore the amount of oxygen and nutrients - that reach active muscles. In addition, the nitrates in beet juice actually decrease the amount of oxygen your muscles need, helping them work more efficiently.
Benefits of Beet Juice
Several studies have been published since 2009, when the research on beet juice began in earnest, that illustrate a wide spectrum of potential applications. A recent study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise tested the effects of beet juice on club-level competitive cyclists during time trials. After drinking the juice, the cyclists had a great power output with the same amount of effort, and were an average of 11 seconds faster. This study strongly supports benefits from beet root juice for endurance athletes.
Beet juice may also have uses for non-athletes who have difficulty carrying out even low-intensity activities like walking. Research published in 2010 in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that beet juice reduced the amount of oxygen test subjects needed to walk, and reduced the amount of effort required by 12 percent. These findings suggest that beet juice could be useful for older adults and other populations with conditions that limit everyday activities, although more research is needed to fully understand the effects.
Using Beet Juice
In the above-mentioned studies, the test subjects were given 16 fluid ounces of beet juice to achieve the documented results. As with many other aspects of personal fitness, it’s important to have realistic expectations. If you do use beet juice, you may get different results than you would from commercially available nitric oxide supplements. People with kidney problems or low calcium should talk to their doctor before drinking large amount of beet juice. Also, a harmless but somewhat startling side effect of drinking the juice in large quantities is red or pink urine, so don’t panic if you experience that.
Research continues to suggest that beet juice may provide the nitrates necessary to improve muscular endurance in both athletes and non-athletes whose activities are limited by various conditions.
Have you tried beet juice in your routine? Tell us about your experience!