The Benefits of Beetroot for Runners

In the last few years there have been a number of studies that have shown the significant benefits of consuming beetroot in improving athletics performance. The good news for both club and recreational fun runners is that it is not necessary to be an elite athlete to take advantage of the benefits of beetroot. In fact the contrary may be the case.

No matter what the form beetroot is good for your running.
No matter what the form beetroot is good for your running.

The reason that the much-maligned tuber is an aid to athletic performance is down to the high concentrations of nitrates that it contains. Nitrate (NO3) is a molecule produced in only limited quantities in the body and solely as a bi-product of nitric oxide.

Eating beetroot or green leaf vegetables such as spinach can increase nitrate levels in our bodies. Once in the system, it interacts with enzymes in saliva to form Nitric Oxide in the cardio-vascular system that in turn improves the vasodilation i.e. the capacity of the veins to carry blood.

This is achieved by dilating the blood vessels and in that way increasing the blood flow. The consequence of this is a fall in blood pressure at rest and a greater oxidisation of the muscles during exercise.

One test ( found that nitrate supplementation produced two distinct and contrasting outcomes. There was a reduction in the maximum VO2 yet the time to the point of exhaustion improved significantly.

In another study on cyclists (Handzlik y Gleeson) it was seen that a mixture of beetroot juice and caffeine brought about a 46% increase in time to exhaustion point over the placebo group. The increase even without the caffeine showed a significant improvement. In addition, drinking the beetroot and caffeine cocktail gave the test subjects the perception of having to expend less effort.

Studies have also shown that the most positive effect is on middle distance performances in events lasting between 5 and 30 minutes. That is to say, those who will benefit the most are athletes who run distances from 1500 – 10,000m.

In another study (Murphy et al), the participants consumed 500 milligrams of nitrate (the equivalent of 200/300 grams of beetroot). It was found that not only did they improve their times in the 5000 metres but also they felt better in the first third of the race and they ran the final 1800m 5% quicker.

Some improved their 5000m times by 41 seconds! However, it is not all good news. In another experiment with elite 1500m runners (3:56 or better), they found that six of the eight showed no improvement in performance after consuming nitrates. That merely confirmed that supplementation is only effective in events between 5 and 30 minutes.

Results have shown that ideal consumption for a person of 70kgs to be between 448 and 896 grams of nitrate per day. The effects should be seen within two to three hours after which they will start to diminish. Although some have benefitted from a single dose, the investigators have generally fed their subjects nitrate anywhere between three and six days ahead of the tests.

It is believed to be best to take beetroot in liquid form but one well-known sailor achieved outstanding results after consuming a can of spinach when faced by a situation that required a little extra effort.

8 thoughts on “BEET IT DOWN YOU – IT’LL DO YOU GOOD”

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