Is Beetroot the Ultimate Athlete Superfood?
Beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables and is now, after a number of published research studies, seen as the athletes super-food!
Beetroot is packed full of nutrients. Vitamins include B vitamins, which are needed for energy production; Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidants, as well as beta-carotene and beta-cyanine. It’s also loaded with minerals, including magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and iron, getting iron in the diet is really important for runners! The pigments in beetroot contain nitrogen and also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, great to relieve post workout soreness. It’s also natural and high in fibre so an overall great vegetable to cook with and eat.
However, what’s most interesting for us runners is that beetroot is packed with high levels of chemicals called nitrates and it is nitrate that appears to be beneficial for exercise performance.
Now for a bit of science. Hold tight!
When we eat beetroot the friendly bacteria in our saliva convert these nitrates to nitrite. Then, elsewhere in the body the nitrite is converted to nitric oxide, which is known to widens your blood vessels, improving blood flow and oxygen delivery to your muscles. It is thought this allows your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently, thereby reducing the amount of oxygen required to perform exercise.
Much of the research has been done with cyclists and it’s been found that cyclists who consumed 500ml of beetroot juice showed significant improvement in time trials.
It’s not just beetroot juice that’s effective. Another study looked at the performance of athletes running 5k after eating 2 medium sized baked beetroot. They improved their times by 3%!
Learning from this research a number of athletes now drink beetroot juice a few hours before a race, either beetroot juice (it seems 500ml is the recommended amount) or 1 or 2 beetroot shots such as Beet-it.
Beetroot can turn your urine and stools pink, which is entirely harmless and cause mild GI discomfort in some people, but overall beetroot is a great vegetable to include in your running diet to help improve your performance.
Let’s go pink!