Episode 66 – Beetroot Juice for Athletes

Key Topics Covered

So Why Beetroot Juice specifically? 

  • It is very high in something called nitrates 
  • Other vegetables also contain nitrates, but it is hard to get in sufficient amounts. 
  • Concentrated beetroot juice specifically is chosen over other options, because 70ml of that is the equivalent of 500ml of regular beetroot juice, which is likely the equivalent of >1kg of regular beetroot. 
  • It just makes it easier to get more in than you can practically get in through whole foods, particularly if you want to consume it relatively close to physical activity. 

How Do Nitrates Help?  

  • Nitrates convert to nitric oxide in the blood which dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow.  
  • This makes it easier for the heart to supply the muscles with blood and oxygen. 
  • It mainly helps endurance athletes 
  • It could have its place in a lot of sports though.  
    • For example, it could indirectly help people in team sports like soccer/football, where endurance is a component but not the full focus.  
    • It could be useful in certain strength endurance events to such as in strongman competitions or certain CrossFit events. 
  • We will also discuss whether it might be beneficial for bodybuilders too.  

Endurance Athletes 

  • One of the most common referenced studies on this topic had 11 well-trained female runners do a 5km time trial after having beetroot juice for 4 days leading up to it. It was double-blinded and they did a crossover with placebo to control for that aspect. On average they got a 1.5% improvement in their times after supplementing beetroot juice. 
  • This kind of outcome seems to be in line with what we commonly see on this topic in the research – a small, but relatively consistent improvement. 
  • A meta-analysis from 2017 covering all the research up until that point came to similar conclusions, although not every single study included had a positive outcome. But with the benefit not being massive, it is not surprising that not every study could identify a benefit. 
  • There is also evidence that untrained athletes get more benefits from beetroot juice than trained athletes. This is likely because trained athletes already have some of the adaptations that beetroot juice helps with. But there is also research indicating higher dosages of nitrates can still lead to improvements in even very well-trained athletes. 

Can It Be Useful for Bodybuilders and Powerlifters  

  • Beetroot juice helps you get more reps on high-rep sets. 
    • One study involved 3 sets to failure with 60% of 1RM on the bench press and beetroot juice outperformed placebo by 17% which is pretty impressive.  
    • If you align with the line of thinking that “if we can get more reps out with the same amount of fatigue, maybe it will lead to an additional stimulus for muscle growth” then maybe beetroot juice helps muscle growth. I’m not necessarily of that opinion, but it is worth mentioning. 
  • If you believe that the pump plays some form of a role in muscle growth, then maybe beetroot juice helps muscle growth.  
  • I don’t really think it is worthwhile for bodybuilders and powerlifters, but it is interesting enough to be aware of. 
  • As a niche application, it might be useful for bodybuilding competition days and having a better pump on stage – it’s not an idea that is commonly used and maybe there is a reason for that but maybe not too many people have considered it either  

Other Niche Applications 

  • Beetroot juice can help reduce blood pressure. On average, daily beetroot juice reduces systolic blood pressure by ~5mm Hg in those with HTN. This could be due to more than just the nitrates since beetroot juice also contains potassium. 
  • Beetroot juice has a bit of evidence showing it can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness a bit. This could also partly be explained by the high amounts of antioxidants it contains.  

Dosage and Timing 

  • Typically the simplest way is to consume either 70ml of concentrated beetroot juice, or 500ml of regular beetroot juice, ~3hrs before training. 
  • The effects typically take 30 minutes to be noticeable, peak after 90 minutes, and last for ~6-8hrs. 

That being said, there is evidence that taking beetroot juice for 3+ days straight further improves performance more than a once-off dose, so there is a combination of an acute and chronic effect. The effects seem to plateau at around the 6-day mark. 

Summary  

  • The worst-case scenario is that it is a micronutrient-rich drink 
  • If you have quite a high vegetable intake, you indirectly get some benefits from their nitrate content anyway, even if it is below the optimal amount 
  • It is not the cheapest supplement – at minimum, it looks like it is >$2.50 per serve 
  • If you are in a position where you can take it easily and consistently though and are also in a sport where you would benefit from it, beetroot juice can be an easy way to improve your performance a bit.  

Relevant Links/ Resources

Studies Mentioned:

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