Enjoying food and drink with relative freedom is one of the joys of regular exercise. Sticking a 50 mile week in the bank puts you in a hefty calorie deficit, which means that you can be fairly indulgent when it comes to what you put in your body. Greasy, fried food, full of saturated fats and refined sugars are still going to be bad for you, but I think in general people who exercise a lot don’t find themselves drawn to those sorts of foods anyway. Our bodies, when worked hard, tend to crave what they need. For me that tends to be a lot of fruit and veg, but also the occasional beer and, recently, dark chocolate, which as you may have noticed is all, in essence, carbs.
No surprise there. I am able to enjoy eating whatever I feel like I want to eat, as at this point I can trust that what I feel like eating is usually pretty healthy, and that my furnace is burning hot enough to deal with the indulgences that I throw upon it. Still, it does sometimes cross my mind to put some thought into what specific benefits I can gain from pursuing certain nutritional lines.
One of these lines that I have been following most recently is beetroot juice. For starters I must say I like beetroot juice. It’s a little like drinking a mild (virgin) Bloody Mary. What I also must say is that I don’t think I was enjoying it quite so much when I began drinking it, so perhaps I have been tricked by some sort of benevolent vegan god, or perhaps I have acquired the taste for this particular acquired taste (and don’t get me wrong, this is definitely an acquired taste).
But I didn’t start on the juice for the sake of pleasure. I had heard, through various sources, that beetroot could enhance athletic performance. I am always excited to hear about natural sources of energy, fitness gains, or just general wellbeing so, I figured, why not give it a go?
We could call beetroots a superfood, if we decided that superfoods were actually even a thing and not just a clever marketing fad, but they are packed with nutrients: vitamin c, folic acid, potassium, manganese, and loads of fibre. So, in general they’re good for you, but not in any way which is notable above any other nutrient powerhouse in the vegetable patch or fruit bowl.
Where beetroot does stand out is with it’s nitrate content. Dietary nitrates are converted to nitrate oxide in the body, which is vital for the healthy functioning of blood vessels. For that reason, smashing beetroot juice will help to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to working muscles and, because of this, the theory is that taking beetroot juice before an athletic feat will improve performance. The nitrates and the increased blood flow will improve the efficiency of the mitochondria, reduce oxygen use, and improve endurance.
We are of course talking marginal gains here, so whether or not beetroot juice is a good fit for your diet depends on:
- How much you care about 1 or 2% time improvements.
- Your appetite for that earthy beetroot taste.
- Whether or not you can deal with having red pee.
Beetroot is also just good just in general. All that fibre is going to be good for your digestion, there are benefits beyond athletic performance to improving your circulation, and vitamin c will keep your immune system strong. But, you know, you can just eat beetroot, if you want. No need to crush them and drink them raw.
If you want those marginal gains though, it might be worth loading up on the red juice throughout the week leading up to your event (for me it is this weekend’s 10k) and then taking a final shot of the good stuff 2-3 hours out from kick-off time. I suppose I can’t say for sure that this works yet, despite the science seemingly being behind it, but come this weekend, I might just have an answer.