• Helen Phillips

Bashing Beetroot and a Cunning Curry

Beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables, and now, after a number of published studies, it’s seen as the athletes super food!


Beetroot is packed full of vitamins and minerals and it’s pigments have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are great to relieve post workout soreness. It’s also naturally sweet and high in fibre so a great vegetable to cook with.

However, what’s most interesting to us runners is that beetroot is packed with high levels of chemicals called nitrates, and it appears that these nitrates are beneficial for exercise performance.

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 know to widen your blood vessels, improving blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles. It is thought that 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 carried out 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 reviewed the performance of athletes running 5k after eating 2 medium sized baked beetroot. They improved their times by 3%! A number of athletes now drink beetroot juice a few hours before a race, either as beetroot juice (it seems that 500ml is the recommended amount) or 1 pr 2 beetroot shots such as Beet-it.

Lots of people are put off cooking with beetroot as it turns your hands pink (which washes off!) and it can turn your urine and stools pink too (which is completely harmless!). But overall beetroot is a great vegetable to include in your running diet to help improve performance.

When I’m marathon training I have a slight beetroot obsession, always on the look out for new recipes. I came across a recipe for Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry last week, so I had to give it a go. Try this out (I have to say it is a bit odd, but really tasty. I added a few extra twists to my version to make it mine.

Beetroot, Squash and Kale Curry

Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil in a heat proof dish and add 10 curry leaves. After a few seconds, once they’re sizzling, add 2 tsp mustard seeds, 2 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds and fry in the hot oil to release the aromas for 1 minute. Add 4 cloves of crushed garlic, piece of cinnamon stick and 1 finely chopped red chilli and fry for another minute.

Peel a bunch of beetroot and half a butternut squash and chop into wedges. Add the veg to the pan along with about 200 ml water. Cover the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Then add a tin of light coconut milk and simmer for a further 15 minutes until the beetroot is tender. Add a couple of handfuls of kale and stir to wilt in the heat of the dish.

Serve with rice or quinoa.