BEET Nutrition for Performance

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Since 2007, many studies have been looking at the role of inorganic nitrate to enhance health and exercise performance.  Beets have become newsworthy because they were found to be a source of dietary nitrate. Following ingestion, the body reduces nitrate to nitric oxide, which is responsible for dilating of blood vessels, resulting in increased blood circulation and oxygen delivery to cells.  The positive exercise effects of nitric oxide are derived from its ability to increase muscle blood flow and regulate several muscle functions, including force production, mitochondrial activity, and glucose uptake. Add these effects together and there is the potential for a reduced cost of oxygen during exercise, which is what we all want!


In 2009, a scientific study was conducted at the University of Exeter in the U.K.  Eight men between the ages of 19 and 38 were given 1.5 cups of beetroot juice per day for six consecutive days before completing a series of tests involving cycling on an exercise bike. On another occasion, they were given a placebo of blackcurrant cordial for six consecutive days before completing the same cycling tests. After drinking beetroot juice the group was able to cycle for an average of 11.25 minutes, 92 seconds longer than when they were given the placebo.

The Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Saint Louis University, tested eleven recreationally fit men and women in a double-blind placebo controlled crossover treadmill time trial. They looked at whether eating 200 grams of whole beetroot, which is about 500 mg of nitrates, prior to exercise, would improve running performance. The subjects ran two treadmill time trials in random sequence, once 75 minutes after consuming baked beetroot and once 75 minutes after consuming cranberry relish.  During the last 1.1 miles of the 5-km run, running speed was 5% faster in the beetroot trial. Towards the end of the run rating of perceived exertion was lower with beetroot. It is fair to say that consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beetroot improves running performance in healthy adults.


How do you become a BEET ROCKET? Some of you reading this are probably thinking how can I possibly consume all those earthly tasting beets before a race? Two companies that produce beet-related products are Beet Elite and Beet-It. Both have formulated beet shots that are equivalent to six beets. Beet Elite created beet crystals to be mixed in four ounces of water and taken 30 minutes prior to exercise.  Beet-It has a ready to drink shot. If you don’t like the taste of beets you may want to try the Beet Elite crystals, which have a black cherry taste. (Beware: a harmless side effect of drinking concentrated beetroot juice is a pink coloration of urine.) As with any ergogenic aid not everyone is a responder.  To assess your nitric oxide levels, Neogenis, ( the maker of Beet Elite, and Berkeley Test make saliva strips. On a final note, don’t forget the power of foods in your daily diet to boost nitric oxide levels. Arugula, spinach, celery, and Chinese cabbage are all good sources of inorganic nitrates that can help produce nitric oxide.  Here’s a recipe for a homemade juice:

“BEET Rocket Juice”

In a juicer add:

1 small beet

Small piece of ginger

3 celery stocks

1 lemon with rind

1 apple

3 carrots

Eat smart!


Sheila Leard, RD, CSSD,

Board Certified Sports Dietitian


Jones, M., Andrew.  Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance, Sports Med. 2014; 44(Suppl 1): 35–45.

Murphy, M., Eliot, K., Heuertz, R., Weiss, E. Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012; 112(4):548-552.

Larsen FJ, Sschiffer TA, Borniquel S, et al. Dietary inorganic nitrate improves mitochondrial efficiency in humans. Cell Metab. 2011; 13(2): 149-59.

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