Podcast Episode 66 Transcript – Beetroot Juice for Athletes

Leah (00:10):

Hello, and welcome to the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. I am Leah Heigel, and I’m here with my co-host Aidan Muir. And today we’re talking all things beetroot juice, specifically as a sports supplement. Beetroot juice is really high in something that we call nitrates. Vegetables generally are pretty high in nitrates, but it’s pretty hard to get sufficient amounts to get the sports supplement level from just vegetables alone as they are, and so using something like concentrated beetroot juice is going to be a better and probably an easier option to get all those nitrates in that we’re looking for in order to have the performance and sports benefit that it does have. It’s just a more practical way to get it in, particularly when it is that concentrated version. It can be as much or as little as 70 mils in a small amount. If we were trying to get that through vegetables, I don’t know what that would look like, but it would look like bowls and bowls-

It would be a just ridiculous amount. We are looking for quite a high amount of these nitrates. How does it actually help? Nitrates convert to nitric oxide in the blood, which then goes on to dilate the blood vessels and improves blood flow. This basically makes it easier for the heart to supply the muscles with blood and oxygen. It’s used quite a lot in the endurance sports space based on its mechanisms. You can kind of see how it would help in endurance athletes’ performance, but it does have a lot of other applications that people don’t often think of. Team sports is definitely one where you have that endurance component, but maybe it’s not a complete endurance sport. I like to use it in a lot of my CrossFit athletes who have again, that endurance component as part of their sport, but also strength and strength endurance component, and we’ll probably discuss this a little bit later on, but it might be helpful for bodybuilders too.

Aidan (02:20):

Yeah. Awesome. Starting with the obvious one, starting with endurance athletes, this is going to sound underwhelming until you think about it, but I’ll start with one of the most commonly referenced studies. The most commonly referenced one that I see is one that had 11 well trained female runners do a 5k time trial after they had beetroot juice for four days leading up to it and also on the day, like a pre-workout thing, a couple of hours before from memory. And it was double blinded. They did a crossover placebo to control for that aspect. And on average, they got a 1.5% improvement in their times in the group that supplemented with beetroot juice. That’s the thing I was saying sounds underwhelming, 1.5%.

Doesn’t sound crazy for a 5k time trial, but the whole point of this, I guess, is it is just a shot. It is just a shot that you take, or it is a decent amount of vegetables or whatever. It is almost like a food that just happens to have this nice benefit.

And 1.5% for some people that does matter, and for other people that matters less. But that seems to be a pretty consistent outcome, that 1.5% improvement. A meta analysis that was covering all the research up until 2017 came to very similar conclusions, so it’s not just that study. A lot of these studies are showing these benefits. There’s also interesting evidence showing that untrained athletes seem to get more benefit from beetroot juice than trained athletes seem to be getting. My personal explanation as to why that is a thing, is that the trained athletes probably have some of the adaptations that you get from beetroot juice, like maybe their blood vessels dilate a little bit more easily anyway to start off with.

But there is also research indicating that higher dosages of nitrates can still lead to those improvements in very well trained athletes as well, which is interesting just being how did we settle on this amount of nitrates? I haven’t gone too deep down that rabbit hole, but when they give people two shots of beetroot juice, so 140 mils of concentrated beetroot juice in elite athletes, they’re still showing improvements. Would they get even more improvements out of a novice athlete doing that? I don’t know. But we do know that the current consensus is for very well trained athletes you might have to go a little bit higher to get these benefits.

Leah (04:39):

Yeah, and even just talking about going back to that underwhelming aspect of that 1.5% is that we’re talking supplements, that’s actually quite good.

I think that’s always good to note is, if you can get a good one to 3% increase or performance benefit from a supplement, that’s actually really awesome, especially as something as simple as taking a shot before you do a race or something like that.

Aidan (05:03):

Yeah. This is just on a tangent, but I heard someone, not going to name them, but they’re a prominent female advocate for just more research on females. And I heard them once claim that beetroot juice doesn’t work in women and it works in men and they use it as an example of how there’s too much research on men or not enough on women. And I heard them say that. And then I looked at the research. I was like, “Oh, that’s not a thing. That’s just not true.” It’s not a true-

Leah (05:30):

It’s just made up.

Aidan (05:31):

Even that first study that I mentioned was done on well trained females and they 0.5% improvement. Yeah. But it’s interesting that it exists and that’s still on my radar, being there’s got to be a reason that person made that claim.

Leah (05:46):

Yeah. Flipping the switch back to the body builders and even powerlifters scenario, beetroot juice can potentially help you get more reps, but this is specific to high rep sets. It’s not probably going to improve your one rep max, for example. But if you’re doing a set of leg extensions till failure, maybe you’ll get a couple more out. One study involved three sets to failure with 60% of people’s one rep max on bench press, and beetroot juice outperform the placebo by 17%, which is pretty damn impressive. That would be quite a-

Aidan (06:30):

Fun fact, I got that study from The Game Changers, the documentary was where I first came in contact with it.

Leah (06:36):

That’s so funny. Really?

Aidan (06:36):

Yeah. And it’s funny. I’m going to make fool of myself by misquoting what they said, but they misquoted the study. They said 19% or 21%. They just said a wrong number.

But they also didn’t say the 60% of one rep max thing. They just said improved bench press performance by 19 to 21%.

Leah (06:53):

Yeah, so it makes it sound like it’s the one rep max.

Aidan (07:02):

But even still, it is impressive that [inaudible 00:07:02] one rep max. And I looked at the numbers in the study to be like… Every time we hear training studies we’re like, “Is this realistic?” Did people actually really push to failure? Or, I don’t know, did the numbers stand out? I looked at the study and they got 20 reps in their first set, then 15 and then 12 on their final set.

They probably actually do go to failure because those numbers do line up pretty well.

Leah (07:23):

Yeah, and if you align with that kind of thinking that if you get more reps in a session, in a set, is that providing more stimulus to the muscle? Is that then going to lead to more muscle growth? And if that is true, then beetroot juice could have a place in things like body building and strength sports, where you are looking for that muscle growth, potentially. I think less so in things like power lifting and Oly lifting where we don’t often work to ever really work to an RP 10 or working to failure. But bodybuilders quite often do. If they’re looking to get a bit more of a pump, get some extra reps in, it could be useful there. I’m not entirely sold on it in terms of I’m not recommending it to all of my power lifters.

It’s something I’ll mention potentially to a bodybuilder though, for example.

Aidan (08:15):

Yeah. I also think that is an interesting point about the whole, if you can get extra reps out additional stimulus without failure fatigue, does that lead to more muscle growth? Because it’s a common argument that is used for creatine, which leads to more muscle growth.

But there’s people who are of the opinion that’s not why creatine leads to more muscle growth. There’s other reasons why it leads to muscle-

But that also aligns with other supplements as well. Beta-alanine I believe there was a systematic review that came out relatively recently that showed no additional muscle growth in beta-alanine, even though people are getting more reps out. Yeah, it’s an interesting line of thinking and it has potential, but I am also of the opinion that it probably doesn’t lead to more muscle growth.

Leah (08:57):

Yeah. I’m not going out of my way to take it, that’s for sure. But as a niche application, it might be useful for body building competition days, where having that bigger pump, it might be beneficial to that competition day. It’s not an idea that is commonly used.

And maybe there’s a reason for that. I think you had mentioned that maybe you can get too much of a pump-on a body building comp day, so maybe there’s a reason people aren’t using it.

Aidan (09:25):

Yeah. Yeah. I stole that idea from somebody else. I just saw somebody else using it for that. And I was like, “Oh, that is an interesting idea.” But it’s not common in body building. And that whole idea that to use those words, people look less conditioned or less shredded when they’re over pumped, but that’s a very subjective thing as well, obviously.

In terms of two other niche applications, one that is interesting is the effect it has on blood pressure. This might be less relevant for most athletes, but it’s still worth mentioning, is that beetroot juice could help reduce blood pressure. It’s pretty easy to see from the mechanism that if you dilate blood vessels, blood can flow through more easily, that’s reduced blood pressure. On average, daily beetroot juice reduces systolic blood pressure by about five units in those who’ve hypertension, so high blood pressure. That could be due to the nitrates. That makes sense to me. But it also could be because beetroot juice is still high in potassium, and that’s something that we really haven’t touched on yet in this conversation. But beetroot juice is still high in micronutrients. It’s still- It’s not just nitrates. And potassium can help with blood pressure. That’s still a bit of a controversial thing. I recently did a blog post on beetroot juice and blood pressure. And there were some people who are stating that the effect is very short term on blood pressure. But then looking at the overall research, it seems to… If you have it every day, it still seems to help. Just not as much as you would necessarily expect.

Yeah. And the other one is that beetrrot juice can potentially help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, so DOMS, just muscle soreness the next day after training or the next couple of days. And the main explanation for that is really just the high amounts of antioxidants in beetroots. If you get concentrated beetroot juice that’s the equivalent of 500 mil of regular beetroot juice, which is probably the equivalent of over a kilo of regular beetroots. It’s just eating a lot of vegetable basically.

Leah (11:24):

That’s a lot of beetroot.

Aidan (11:27):

Yeah, and because it’s so concentrated, there’s so many antioxidants and that might be why it could help reduce soreness.

Leah (11:31):

Yeah, so as you stated, the simplest way to take it is with that 70 mils of the concentrated beetroot juice, or you could literally drink half a liter of just regular beetroot juice, and then time that around three hours before training. The effect typically takes 30 minutes to be noticeable and then peaks after around 90 minutes. And then lasts for six to eight hours. That being said, there is evidence that beetroot juice may be beneficial if you were to take it leading into an event three days straight to then further improve the performance effect of that beetroot juice. And that’s something I’ll use with a lot of my athletes-in terms of I’ll have them on the 70 mils of concentrated beetroot juice daily for two to three days and then on event day as well to try and get the most we can out of that supplementation.

Aidan (12:24):

Awesome. The summary basically is worst case scenario is, it’s a micronutrient rich drink. It’s just like having a lot of vegetables. On that topic, if you have a really high vegetable intake, you indirectly get some of these benefits from their nitrate content anyway, even if it’s not in that kind of sports supplement type of dosage, even if it’s a little bit below that. There was another thing they talked about in The Game Changers, they just kept coming back to endothelial function and dilation of blood vessels. But to a certain degree, that actually is a valid point. But it’s another case for higher vegetable intake anyway.

From another perspective, it’s not the cheapest supplement. I had a look, and it seems like even bought in bulk it’s usually around $5 per serve. It seems like if you buy directly from a company called Beet It, you can get it for about $2.50 per serve, before [inaudible 00:13:17] and shipping costs and stuff like that. But even $2.50 per serve, which is high off the price of what it normally is, still is a lot.

Leah (13:24):

If you were to take that daily I don’t think that’s very financially viable for a lot of athletes or a lot of people. But heading into a competition-

Aidan (13:35):

Yeah, and when you’re talking about stuff like CrossFit where it’s, I don’t know, how many events per year really matter to you?

It often makes sense, and we see how close those events are. And if we go with that logic of a 1.5% improvement, often it makes sense. And particularly if you fit the bill for those strength endurance ones, that 17% improvement in bench press, sometimes you might even get far more than that 1.5% improvement. But yeah, if you’re in a position where you can take it easily and consistently, or in a position where you can take it just leading up to an event or whatever, it makes a lot of sense to me. Is there anything else you want to add onto that, or do we reckon we just wrap it up there?

Leah (14:09):

No, let’s wrap it up.

Aidan (14:10):

Awesome. Well, this has been episode 66 of the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. As always thank you for listening. And if you could please leave a rating and review that would be greatly appreciated.