Beetroot Juice Improves Cyclists' Performance in Small Study
Cyclists--and other athletes--who want to better their riding times or performance may be interested in the results of a small study involving beetroot juice. Researchers at the University of Exeter found that the high nitrate levels in the juice provide benefits that may improve performance.
Beetroot juice contains several beneficial ingredients
Beetroot juice is an excellent source of nitrates, a substance that can dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow, which also reduces blood pressure. Nitrates can also reduce the amount of oxygen the muscles require during physical activity, a characteristic especially beneficial for athletes and others who engage in physical tasks.
In the new study, nine male competitive cyclists competed in two time trials—one at 2.5 miles and the other at 10 miles. The cyclists performed each time trial twice: before one trial they consumed “normal” beetroot juice, and before the other, they drank beetroot juice from which the nitrates had been removed. The cyclists were not aware of which juice they were drinking any of the four times.
The VO2 levels (amount of oxygen consumed) were monitored for all athletes during exercise. Investigators found that compared with when the athletes drank the beetroot juice without nitrates, they had a higher power output while expending the same level of effort when they consumed the juice with nitrates.
Overall, the men cycled 11 seconds (2.8%) faster on the 2.5 mile course and 45 seconds (2.7%) faster on the 10-mile course when they consumed beetroot juice with nitrates. According to lead author Andrew Jones, “The findings show an improvement in performance that, at competition level, could make a real difference—particularly in an event like the Tour de France where winning margins can be tight.”
This is not the first time researchers at the University of Exeter have investigated the benefits of beetroot juice. In 2009, they showed that drinking beetroot juice significantly enhanced athletic endurance among cyclists by reducing their oxygen consumption.
Cyclists in this earlier study consumed 500 milliliters of organic beetroot juice for six days before they underwent endurance testing. The athletes showed a 2 percent reduction in time to cover a set distance, as well as lower blood pressure. The results indicated that beetroot juice likely benefits athletic stamina because of nitrates that convert to nitric oxide.
Beetroot juice also contains other important nutrients, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium, along with other compounds that may affect the physiological response to exercise, such as betaine (a nutrient that can reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a substance that can cause fatigue), antioxidants, and polyphenols.