Beet Juice Can Make Even Trained Cyclists Faster and More Powerful
“THE BENEFITS AREN’T JUST FOR NEWBIES—YOU JUST NEED TO ADJUST THE DOSE TO GET THE BOOST, TOO” Read on…
I have long extolled my love for beets, and my belief in the power of the nitrate-rich ruby roots to boost performance on the bike. After all, there was good evidence that backed me up: Drinking beetroot juice can lower blood pressure and help hard workouts feel easier, because your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump out the blood you need.
One landmark study found that cyclists drinking high doses of concentrated beetroot juice used about 3 percent less oxygen during exercise tests than those drinking a placebo drink. In other words, the riders used less energy to pedal the same pace.
But then beets slipped from the spotlight after further research showed no benefit for highly fit athletes. Most notably, a study on elite triathletes found that when they drank about a cup of beetroot juice 2.5 hours before a 30-minute cycling time trial, they saw no meaningful improvement over those who drank beet juice that had been stripped of its active ingredient, nitrate.
It was the nitrate that seemed to be the sticking point. Your body converts nitrate to nitrite and then nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation—widening of your blood vessels—and lowered blood pressure. For untrained and moderately fit people, the added nitrate boost from beets seemed to provide performance benefits. But highly fit athletes already produce ample amounts of nitric oxide naturally—it’s a training adaptation—so the beet boost was no more than a blip.
Now, new research has me feeling vindicated about sticking to my beet believing ways. It turns out highly trained folks just need a bigger dose (which, given the fact that I eat beets most days a week and supplement before events, I was likely already getting) to get the same effect.
In the study, published appropriately enough in the journal Nitric Oxide, researchers from the Aalborg University in Denmark put well-trained cyclists through a series of tests. First, each volunteer drank two doses of concentrated beet juice (enough to get 12 mmol, or double the usual dose) for a week and then performed two 10K time trials, one wearing a mask to simulate sea level conditions and one to simulate 8,200 feet of elevation (since some research indicated that beet juice might work best in low oxygen conditions like high altitude). Then, the volunteers drank two shots of beet juice sans nitrates for seven days and did the same time trials.
The cyclists’ average power improved by about 5 watts and they hit the 10K finish 1.6 percent faster after seven days of drinking the real beet juice, compared to the sham shots, in both the altitude and sea level simulation time trials.
The authors concluded that these findings provide evidence that “chronic high-dose NO3 [nitrate] supplementation improves cycling performance of well-trained cyclists” in both oxygen rich and low oxygen conditions.
You’d have to eat about a dozen beets a day to get those double doses, which isn’t a good idea for your stomach or general health. That’s where supplements come in: Concentrated beetroot powders like BeetElite, which has the equivalent of 500 mL of beet juice and 6mmol of nitrate per two scoops, is an easier way to see if beets do indeed make you harder to beat.
*Selene Yeager “The Fit Chick” is a top-selling professional health and fitness writer who lives what she writes as a NASM certified personal trainer, USA Cycling certified coach, pro licensed mountain bike racer, and All-American Ironman triathlete.