Beetroot juice was in the news a lot in the last few months. A fair number of studies in the past few years used it as an athletic performance enhancer. Researchers used it in other studies to lower blood pressure, improve heart function in angina patients, and for a number of other possible uses, as well. It is one the high potassium foods with a lot of other advantages also.
Beetroot Is Not Sugar Beet
First of all, you should distinguish beetroot from the sugar beet. Starting from a common ancestor, the sugar beet was selectively bred for its sugar content to compete with sugar cane, and is mostly white. Beetroot is red to purple, and also is called garden beet. It has betaine and a number of other phytochemicals that may have advantageous health benefits. What has been getting all the press lately, though, is the fact that it is high in nitrates.
Because it is high in nitrates, it has many of the same effects as the nitrate medications used with angina patients. When given acutely, nitrates will dilate blood vessels and relieve angina.
Researchers have studied beetroot for this effect, but also for other uses, such as lowering blood pressure and improving athletic performance. Scientists have examined these effects only in short term studies, though. In a recent study they studied its use for lowering blood pressure in males with normal blood pressure. Beetroot juice lowered blood pressure for the 24 hours that the study was run. But there was no report on long term effects on blood pressure.
Use In Athletics
Likewise, athletes used beetroot juice in a lot of different athletic settings. Rowers, runners, steppers, cyclists and resistance exercisers drank the juice for anywhere from a few hours up to 24 hours prior to an athletic performance test. Occasional studies supplemented for as much as 6 days.
The majority of studies show improvement in performance. The main improvement is in the later part of the exercise session, indicating it improved the ability of the muscle to endure. It helps to overcome the hypoxia (low oxygen delivery to the muscle) that occurs with exercise as it continues.
Animal studies, and some human studies, looked at the muscles and the small blood vessels in the muscles. The small blood vessels do not clamp down as much as usual as exercise continues, so they deliver more oxygen to the muscle. Also, after consuming beetroot juice, the muscle cells have better functioning mitochondria, which are the energy factories of the cell. The mitochondria continue to provide more energy under reduced oxygen conditions than they could without the beetroot juice consumption.
Because of its high nitrate content, the way beetroot juice may work is that it delivers nitrites and, more importantly, nitric oxide to the cells. This works on the small blood vessels by keeping them open longer during exercise and works on the mitochondria by improving their management of oxygen in the cell.
However, nitrate tolerance may limit its usefulness if used daily. Investigators have known about nitrate tolerance for over a hundred years for the nitrate medications. People on nitrate medications need higher and higher doses to get the favorable effects. But there are forms of nitrate molecules that show less tolerance. It may be that beetroot juice has nitrate in such a form. Studies that use beetroot juice for longer periods would help determine its long term effects.
So what is the bottom line? At this point, beetroot juice appears to help you exercise longer if you take it several to 24 hours prior to your exercise session. It helps you reduce your blood pressure in the short term. If you take it daily, you may gradually lose the blood pressure lowering and performance enhancing effect.
But if you include it once or twice a week you will be able to exercise longer during one or two sessions. And you will get a great boost of potassium. That boost can help you get the 4700 mg of potassium a day that has been shown to help with long term blood pressure reduction. Check the “Links to Food Potassium Tables” tab for links to tables of high potassium foods.