Beetroot is also known simply as beet, or by its scientific name Beta vularis. It is an edible root that is enjoyed by many people and occurs commonly on Australian hamburgers. Despite its humble origins, beets have been established to possess powerful nitric oxide and exercise boosting potential.
Beetroot has been cultivated for thousands of years and was probably first farmed in the Mediterranean before it spread around the world.
Beetroot contains high levels of nitrates, which can eventually be converted into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is one of the best friends of bodybuilders and athletes because it may increase "pump" and endurance. This has been covered in detail in our "Nitric Oxide Supplements" article.
There have been quite a few studies looking into the effect of beetroots on exercise. Quite often, these studies are performed with beetroot juice. It has been shown that consuming beetroot juice was able to significantly increase plasma nitrate levels, maximum exercise intensity, as well as duration. This is probably due to increased nitric oxide being able to essentially provide more energy and spare oxygen usage (Bailey et al, 2010). Endurance athletes saw similar improvements after supplementing with beetroot, showing significant improvements in cycling time and power output (Cermak et al, 2012).
Beetroot is rich in the B vitamin folate. It also contains a variety of other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, and potassium. Beetroot is also rich in betanin, which is a powerful antioxidant that can protect against free radical damage (Kanner et al, 2001). Not only is this good for general health, but it may also buffer against damage by free radicals produced during intensive exercise.
Generally, beetroot consumption is safe. One notable side effect through, is that excess consumption causes the colouring from the beetroot to find its way into urine, making it a pink colour. Do not be alarmed though, because this is harmless. However, there has been some concern raised about the potential for nitrates reacting to form carcinogenic compounds (Derave & Taes, 2009). This highlights the need to do more research to establish the safety of such compounds.
Studies looking into the ergogenic effects of beetroot have used 500 mL beetroot juice/day for around a week. This is therefore the recommended dosage. However, many supplements may contain beetroot powder or extract, which is far more concentrated than juice. Therefore, it is likely that less of this will be needed than beetroot juice. The recommended timing for taking beetroot is 30 to 45 minutes prior to exercise.
Beetroot juice is available commercially as a health food/supplement. Because of the ability to increase nitric oxide, beetroot can be found in pre workout supplements. It is also an ingredient commonly occurring in antioxidant supplements, and a variety of protein powders. When looking for beetroot, also remember to look for it by its other names, such as beet and Beta vularis.
As a way to improve your exercise performance, beetroot can be stacked with other nitric oxide supplements such as arginine and citruline. As an antioxidant, beetroot can be stacked with other antioxidant rich ingredients such as acai, cranberries, and bilberry.
Bailey et al (2010), Dietary nitrate supplementation enhances muscle contractile efficiency during knee-extensor exercise in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology 109: 135-148
Cermak et al (2012), Nitrate supplementation's improvement of 10-km time-trial performance in trained cyclists. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 22: 64-71
Derave & Taes (2009), Beware of the pickle: health effects of nitrate intake. Journal of Applied Physiology, 107: 1677
Kanner et al (2001), Betalains - A New Class of Dietary Cationized Antioxidants. J Agric Food Chem, 49: 5178-5185