Beetroot juice has been trending for a while in the world of endurance athletes, but it has not really generated a lot of interest amongst bodybuilders and powerlifters. The evidence is pretty clear that it has some applications in terms of improving performance in certain areas of training for bodybuilders and powerlifters, but this article will break down the current research and also include an interpretation of whether or not it is worthwhile taking.
Why is Beetroot Juice Theoretically Helpful in General?
At a minimum, beetroot juice is a good source of potassium, vitamin C, B9, iron, manganese and antioxidants in general. But the real reason why people care about it is due to the potential it has to improve blood flow.
Beetroot juice contains nitrates, which helps to dilate blood vessels.
And although beetroot has other positive qualities, the research is clear that the nitrates are the key, since when the conversion of nitrates to nitrite is blocked via mouthwash, or when beetroot juice without nitrates is used, there appears to be no benefit.
Why Would Beetroot Juice Be Helpful for Bodybuilders and Powerlifters?
The obvious reason why improved blood flow could be relevant to people who lift weights is that it leads to a better pump. For those who do not know, that is when blood flows to the area that you are training, which makes it swell up and appear bigger.
Does this have a tangible benefit to muscle growth? My thought process is that it probably does not matter that much, but it is still debated enough that it probably is not a bad thing to aim for occasionally if there are no other downsides.
For reference as to why some people think a pump can help muscle growth, the theoretical mechanism is that a pump places a bigger stretch on the membranes of the muscle cells. This stretch signals chemical reactions that instigate long-term muscle growth by increasing muscle protein synthesis. Use with that information what you will.
From a performance perspective though, there is research to suggest that beetroot juice can help improve higher rep sets.
One example of this is a study that had resistance-trained men ingest beetroot juice prior to 3 sets of bench press to failure at 60% of their one-rep max. This led to a 17% improvement in comparison to the placebo group.
There is not a massive amount of research on this topic yet, and I would wager this is at the upper end of what we are likely to see in terms of improvement, but it is still promising.
Then the next question is whether this translates to improved muscle growth and 1-rep max performance.
Theoretically, being able to perform more reps with no additional fatigue should translate to improved hypertrophy. We do not have the research on this in beetroot juice yet, but this concept is not as clear cut as you would think. There are other supplements, such as citrulline malate, that also produce the same performance benefits but still do not have tangible evidence showing they lead to more muscle growth.
Another aspect to mention is that nitric oxide also appears to play a small role in muscle growth. It can improve satellite cell activation in response to resistance training.
At the other end of the spectrum, blocking nitric oxide production appears to reduce muscle growth. And when nitric oxide is increased (like it is when supplementing beetroot juice) in rodents, there is an increase in muscle growth.
So while beetroot juice has not been linked with muscle growth in the research so far, it would not be overly surprising if it happened to be linked in the future.
Other Research on Strength Performance
Just to cover all bases, I’ll briefly discuss some other research on this topic.
- One study involved giving 9 subjects with heart failure that consumed beetroot juice, and almost immediately after drinking it their muscle power improved by 13% on average. Interesting, but potentially not relevant for serious lifters.
- Another study involved 200g beetroot puree 2.5 hours before performing 10 sets of bench press with 50% of one-rep max. No performance improvement was found. This is more interesting, particularly since the results are counter to the previously mentioned study on bench press performance. This seems to be on the lower end of the recommended dosage. That being said, it certainly makes it a more of a “watch this space” area.
- Nitrate supplementation did not improve maximal strength, countermovement jump performance or muscular endurance in this study.
So while there is some positive research on beetroot juice, there are also some mixed results.
Beetroot Juice Could Have Potential Applications for Injury Recovery and Prevention
For this section, there is certainly no research on it yet and it is unlikely there will be in the near future, but it is an area of interest for me.
In certain soft-tissue injuries such as tendinopathies, there appears to be benefits of improved blood flow through the area (tendons in this case), as evidenced by improved healing rates associated with nitroglycerin patches.
Tendons typically do not have a lot of vascularity, so there is not much blood flow. During tendinopathy, there appears to be more vascularity, since the body is trying to encourage more blood flow to the area to promote healing, but there is still not much blood flow in comparison to muscles.
Beetroot juice could potentially help encourage blood flow to the injured area (since it is encouraging blood flow in general), particularly for rehab sessions. The antioxidant benefits could also carryover to improved healing based on theoretical mechanisms, but this is an area that has a massive need for more research.
This idea carries over into a lot of other forms of injury as well.
Although I have included it in this article, it is super low on the list of reasons to take beetroot juice. We know it can likely improve performance in high rep sets, we speculate that it could carryover to improved muscle growth (which in turn would improve 1RM performance), but even the theoretical mechanisms for injury recovery/prevention would lead to a minor improvement at best. It is really only relevant for somebody doing absolutely everything in their power to improve their results and leave no stone unturned.
There are minimal side effects to beetroot juice supplementation.
A small percentage of people find that it can change the colour of their urine to a red or pink colour, but that is about it.
Outside of that I can only really identify two downsides of it.
- It can taste pretty horrid to some people. It is not uncommon for people to have it pre-training and then leave them feeling a bit nauseous.
And as with most supplements, since the performance improvement from the supplement is not massive, any clear detriments like nausea could potentially outweigh the benefits. If you have it ~3hrs away from training, this is less of an issue though.
2. It can also be quite expensive.
In Australia, the most commonly recommended source of concentrated beetroot juice is Beet-It which appears to often be around $5 a shot even when purchased in bulk. So price is certainly a factor here for a lot of people.
Peak Week for Bodybuilders
Because beetroot juice can help with getting a pump, some bodybuilders have started using it to help on comp day, or during peak week.
This makes sense if you are looking to get a better pump. The dosing protocol below would apply, just the same as it does for performance.
Dosage and Timing
The ideal dosage appears to be around 5-7mmol of nitrate for most people, taken around 3hrs before training. This equates to roughly 250-300g of nitrate rich vegetables per day.
The effects typically take 30 minutes to be noticeable, peak after 90 minutes and last for 6-8hrs.
This equates to 500ml of regular beetroot juice or 70ml of Beet It, which is a more concentrated version.
It is also worth noting that taking beetroot juice daily for 3-4 days actually improves its effectiveness even more than acute dosage, so arguably it would make sense to do that instead of just a once-off dose. The effects seem to plateau after about 6 days though.
The final thing to be aware of is that you must not brush your teeth or use mouthwash right after taking beetroot juice as it can block the conversion of nitrates into nitrites, which also blocks the effectiveness of the supplement.
Other Food Sources of Nitrates
It is possible to consume this amount of nitrate for performance enhancing benefits through food. The main challenge is that in some circumstances the total food volume could potentially be too much to be feasible or could take away from the opportunity to reach other dietary goals.
For context though, the below table provides some information of the nitrate content of vegetables.
Is it Worth Taking?
As stated earlier:
- We know that it likely helps performance for high rep sets.
- We can speculate that it might have carryover for improved muscle growth, which would also carry over to improved 1RM.
- We can speculate that it might have a small benefit for injury recovery/prevention in some situations.
Based on all of that, I would not put it as high on the list of priorities as something like creatine.
The way I would view it is that if you are nailing all other areas of your training, nutrition and supplementation, have spare money and have an interest in adding it on top, it could be worth taking.
If you do not meet that criterion above, I probably would not go out of my way to spend money on it.