The root of sporting success?

If it’s good enough for the Tour De France Cyclists it’s got to be good enough for us! In this article on the BBC website the Belkin cycling team chef Jesper Boom explains how the purple root vegetable can help give his team’s riders a crucial performance advantage in the gruelling stages. Belkin Cycling Team beetroot JuiceThe secret is the high nitrate content in beetroot which helps muscles to use oxygen more efficiently.

Jesper is so adamant of the benefits that he will ensure in advance there are adequate supply of Beetroot in all the hotels the team stay at, if it’s not on the menu then he asks them to go and buy it!

So what evidence is there of the benefits?

Beetroot juice has traditionally been linked to lowering blood pressure however over the last few years there has been a focus of studies on increasing athletic performance. This has led to a boom in its popularity and with top athletes adopting it the boom will only continue.
Research by the University of Exeter published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise has shown drinking the juice enables competitive-level cyclists to cut down the time it takes to ride a given distance. The study looked at club level cyclists completing 2.5mile and 10 mile trials who were given beetroot juice beforehand (supplied by James White Drinks), on one occasion with normal beetroot juice and the other with a key ingredient, nitrate, removed.

The results showed on average riders were 11 seconds quicker on the short course and 45 seconds quicker on the longer course.
It is thought the nitrate has two physiological effects, firstly affecting muscle tissue and reducing the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during activity and secondly it widens blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and allowing more blood flow.
Other studies have shown it is actually less effective in increasing performance of the highest level athletes, the significant improvements seem to be with everyday chumps like us!

In events such as the Tour De France anything which can give a slight advantage could be crucial with riders being separated by seconds after 90+ hours of cycling so you can see why they are so keen to use it.

So have you tried it?

Beet It Stamina ShotI have to admit when I was training for the Great North Run I thought I’d give it a go and I found it to be an acquired taste! It certainly is a marmite style drink but if you aren’t keen there are still ways to reap the benefits of beetroot. James White Beet It has 10% apple juice mixed in to give it a sweeter taste. There is also the option of the Beet It shots to give you that hit before your big event.

But it’s up to you, there are plenty of juices you can mix with beetroot juice to make it suit your pallet, the best thing is just to try different things, my particular favourite is in a smoothie with mixed berries and apples, yum!

But it isn’t just drinks you can add beetroot to, it works surprisingly well with chocolate especially in chocolate brownies (which as we all know are an essential part of any top athlete’s diet), or check out our Free From Foodie’s recipe for triple feel good chocolate truffle cake.

I’d love to know your thoughts on beetroot, do you swear by it to get you through a 100 mile bike ride? Just love the taste? Or wouldn’t go near the stuff??

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  • Leanne J

    I’m sad to see a portion of pickled beetroot doesn’t have the same effect, as I eat loads of the stuff! However, drinking fruit and vegetable blends the past few days including some with beetroot, I found it’s very easy to make a lovely tasting blend if you don’t like the earthy taste of beetroot on its own. Really easy to include it in your baking, in bread or in juices so bring it on!

  • Beet-It say take one within an hour of the start and another at some earlier time in the previous 12 hours, Others say there is a loading effect and you should take it over time, any suggestion please. Thanks.

    • Peter Leatherland

      Hi George, it’s difficult to say, the research by Exeter University: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_145007_en.html
      was using beetroot juice from Beet-it however it wasn’t the concentrated shots they now sell. The effect comes from the nitrate in the juice (a placebo was used in the research which was beetroot juice with the nitrate removed), there isn’t much research I can find which looks at how you should be drinking it i.e. loading up or drinking concentrated shots.

      When I originally read about beetroot juice the study when I was training for the Great North Run, the study looked at drinking it over the week before the event would boost performance, the later studies seem to be looking at drinking shortly before.

      There is a well written article here: http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/using-beet-juice-to-improve-performance which has some good information cited from various studies.

      I’d say it’s down to personal preference and practicality, drinking a litre of juice just before a 5km race may not be such as good idea!