While you were on your summer vacation, you might have missed the latest exercise and fitness nutrition fad for athletes. Well, like most things in life, it all really comes back to what mom used to say (well, she gently remind me over and over again as I threw peas at my siblings) – “eat all your vegetables!” Seems that mom was right, once again and the exercise studies agree.
A recent story on Active.com titled “Can Beet Juice Instantly Improve Your Endurance” by Anne Guzman of PezCycling News, featured a groundbreaking exercise study conducted by the University of Exerter’s School of Sport and Health Sciences (in Exerter, England/U.K.). This study examined whether there were beneficial effects from nitrates – all vegetables have nitrates (thanks mom) but beets are packed with them – on athletic performance and exercise endurance. The University of Exerter’s study involved analyzing:
… eight male cyclists consuming half a liter (500ml) of beet juice (approx. 2 cups), containing nearly 700 mg of naturally occurring nitrate, for six days. The control group with the placebo… drank black currant cordial… for the same amount of time…
… The cyclists (in the study) completed a series of “stepped” moderate-intensity and severe-intensity exercise tests on a cycling ergometer…
The results speak for themselves, and I think speak volumes for beets as a potential nutritional exercise/workout supplement (although the sample size was small) for athletes of all levels, endurance or weekend warriors. The study results simply cannot be beet:
The beet juice group was able to cycle an average of 16 percent longer. The men also had lower resting blood pressure after consuming the beet juice compared to the currant juice.
How is this possible? Why is beet juice the magic endurance elixir? Well, biologically speaking, more oxygen was pumped into the cyclists muscles thanks to all the nitrates in the beet juice – the benefit: increased exercise endurance.The author of the university study, Professor Andy Jones, also commented that: “Our study is the first to show that nitrate-rich food (like beets) can increase exercise endurance. We were amazed by the effect of beet juice on oxygen uptake because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training.”
As it turns out, the Brits and mom aren’t the only one who have the inside scoop on the exercise benefits of beets, especially for endurance athletes. The cycling world and Tour-de-France competitors have been “beeting” it for years. More recently, according to a May 2012 story in Outside Magazine by Gordy Megroz: “Never Miss A Beet”, U.S. Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall decided to add beet juice to his daily nutrition regimen after breaking down due to fatigue before the Chicago Marathon. Now, according to Megroz, Hall is a beet juice believer:
“One of the more unusual new tactics he (Hall) incorporated was chasing each (training) run with eight ounces of an unappetizing-sounding drink: beet juice.”
The nitrates may have increased his ability to train harder longer, a critical factor for an elite runner who once suffered from fatigue. Last year, Hall ran the fastest marathon ever by an American, finishing fourth in Boston. In January, he qualified for the London Olympics (but did not finish due to a hamstring injury)…. “I can’t say it was all thanks to beet juice,” he says. “But I’m running well, so I’m going to keep drinking it.”
Well, there you have it Seacoast fitness enthusiasts, endurance athletes and weekend warriors. According to (some) expert studies and elite athletes, if you want to exercise, workout, run, swim or cycle longer and fight off fatigue like Ryan Hall, then you need to eat your veggies, especially those beets!
Of course not all these academic studies are 100% conclusive, but you can always try some beet juice and study yourself. Hey, if you snack on a couple of beets before a run or maybe juice up post-workout, it could help you get a personal best this fall on a 5K, a half marathon or triathlon, or at least fight fitness fatigue. It’s worth a try.
At a minimum, if you are looking for more exercise endurance (and aren’t we all), adding some beet juice to your diet might (or might not) make a difference in your fitness this fall. Turns out, mom was right, once again. Personally, I’m sold on making beets my new fitness “treat.” The Brits study on cyclists’ endurance gains is pretty convincing. And, hey if it’s working for Olympian Ryan Hall (after every training run) and for pro cyclists, I say just “Beet It!”
[For more details on the benefits of beets on running endurance, check out the recent Precision Nutrition Coaching case study at: www.precisionnutrition.com/beets-and-beetroots.]