You may have read articles about beets or maybe have come across products derived from beets that claim to promote performance improvements in endurance exercise. Research certainly suggests this to be true, but what we are really talking about when it comes to beets and the potential performance benefits is nitric oxide or NO. So why is NO so important, and more specifically why is it important for endurance performance?
NO regulates a number of systems and reactions in the human body including blood flow, mitochondrial respiration, muscle contraction, glucose and calcium homeostasis, neurotransmission, and immune function. We don’t consume NO, it is derived from dietary nitrate and nitrite. So now the question is can nutritional interventions help with endurance performance?
First we should identify sources of dietary nitrate. As this blog post’s title points out, beetroot is an excellent source of dietary nitrate. Other nitrate rich food sources include carrot, spinach, arugula, and rhubarb. Some do not particularly enjoy the taste of beetroot, or even beetroot juice for that matter, so there have been some powders and shots produced that pack in similar amounts of dietary nitrate into a smaller more palatable dose.
Now, when we perform endurance exercise, i.e. exercise at a sub-maximal intensity, the primary energy system used is the oxidative or aerobic system. The more aerobically fit you are, the higher is your rate of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max). When we perform endurance exercise we are doing so at sub-maximal intensities, this could be something like 65% or 90% of your VO2 max. The greater the percentage the higher the intensity, and the less amount of time you will be able to sustain that pace. When you train your VO2 max should improve so you can sustain higher intensities for a longer period of time, or to put another way sustain the same running pace or cycling power output at a lower percentage of your VO2. Research suggests that supplementing with dietary nitrate can also achieve this! And it achieves this via its potential effects on the mechanisms above.
It is worth to note here that the bulk of research has shown the effects of dietary nitrate to be limited in elite or highly-trained endurance athletes. So if you’re not a pro athlete you may be able to enjoy some significant benefits from nitrate supplementation. And as is the case with other drugs and supplements there are always responders and non-responders. So there is certainly no guarantee, but as we always suggest, experimentation is key, tune into your body, and find out what works for you. In the event you do want to experiment, based on the scientific research, here are some guidelines that can be used as a good starting point. Remember to practice new nutritional strategies during training, and not introduce them for the first time when participating in an important race or event!
Option 1 – For the 3 to 5 days leading up to your event drink between ~16oz of beetroot juice per day (feel free to try a lower dose if you are concerned about tolerance). On the day of your event take another dose (or a beet shot like BeetElite) 2-3 hours prior to your start time.
Option 2 – There is some evidence to suggest you can reap benefits without supplementing for days prior to event. So on event day simply drink ~16oz of beetroot juice or a beet shot like BeetElite 2-3 hours prior to your event start time.