It seems like every year there is a new super food that will help you push harder during a workout, look better in a bathing suit and/or give you more energy. As a busy adult it can be really difficult to know what to take seriously and what you can dismiss as a gimmick. We at Top Trainer feel your frustration, so we’ve done the legwork for you on the latest trend, beets, to see if they are worth your time and money.
Beets are having a moment in the nutrition world, and for good reason. Recent studies show that consuming beets, either whole, in juices or in supplements, can help stave off dementia, diabetes and inflammation while helping to improve heart health, blood pressure, digestion and regularity. On top of that, results now indicate that they can help athletes improve performance and recover faster.
Everyone knows that vegetables are good for you, that’s no secret. So let’s first take a look at the nutrition info on beets. According to My Fitness Pal, one cup of beets contains roughly 74 calories, 16 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein and 14 grams of sugar. They also contain two percent of your daily vitamin A needs, one percent calcium, eight perfect of iron and 10 percent vitamin C. Beets provide much needed folate and manganese, vitamin B-6, riboflavin, as well as many other minerals and nutrients.
The reason beets have recently gained interest among athletes is due to the high amounts of dietary nitrates they provide. When you eat beets, the nitrates mix with the healthy bacteria contained in the saliva in your mouth and forms nitric oxide, which is absorbed by your digestive system when you swallow. These nitrites help improve blood flow, muscle contraction and neurotransmission throughout the body.
Now you may have heard a lot of warnings about unhealthy, dangerous nitrites found in the preservatives of processed meats like hot dogs and bacon, but fear not, because not all nitrites are created equal. The nitrites contained in healthy vegetables like beets and spinach occur naturally, are completely safe and filled with antioxidants. So eat with confidence.
The carotid and cerebral arteries that supply oxygenated blood to your brain increase blood flow by about 25 percent when you exercise. When you increase the intensity on your workout that oxygen-rich blood becomes less abundant and your reaction time slows down. As we’ve already learned, beets increase your oxygen levels, helping the blood flow to your brain, increasing reaction time and mental sharpness.
You can eat them, drink them, take them in pill or powder form. Beets are easy to get, but if you don’t like the taste or have problems digesting all the fiber, it’s probably best to stick to a supplement of some sort. That will also help cut down on the side effects, of which there are few. The carotenes that give beets their dark, rich color will also show up in your urine and stool. It’s completely harmless.
Beets increase your oxygen levels, helping the blood flow to your brain, increasing reaction time and mental sharpness.
So what does this mean for athletic performance and exercise habits?
The supplementation of beet nitrates in the diet has shown an improvement in muscle oxygenation during exercise, which enhances ones’ endurance and tolerance for physical activity. This could not only benefit runners or athletes, but also those who are simply out of shape or chronically ill and seem to struggle for the energy to climb up a flight of stairs or walk down the street.
In fact, studies show that after consuming beets subjects required less oxygen, about 3 percent less, to maintain his or her level of exercise. Meaning they used less energy to complete their test. The beets helped increase their metabolic threshold, the thing that makes your oxygen readily available and able to convert to energy when you need it the most. So you have less fatigue slowing you down. And because your body is creating more oxygen within the muscle tissue, you rely less on what you inhale. This in turn increases your VO2 max, meaning you will do less huffing and puffing to complete your workout.
This same study, reported by Medical News Today, found that in a 4 km bicycle time trial, beetroot juice improved athletic performance by 2.8 percent, or 11 seconds, and by 2.7 percent, or 45 seconds, in a 16.1 trial.