Are Beets Good for you?

The wondrous root vegetable is supposed to be a godsend for endurance athletes.

BY ERIN STROUT

JAN 28, 2021

Beets are all the rage right now, especially for runners. As I started dipping my toe back into marathon training, I wanted to find out why. Is this miracle vegetable really going to make my running that much better? Are beets really that good for you?

The research in recent years is convincing. The basic premise is that beets are an excellent source of nitrate, which is shown to decrease blood pressure. Essentially, what a 2013 study by Andrew Jones, Ph.D., a professor of applied physiology at the University of Exeter and go-to expert on beets and performance, showed is that the amount of oxygen you need to sustain exercise decreased after consuming beet juice. In other words, it took less energy to run the same pace.

According to the research, which was performed with cyclists, the athletes were tested about 2.5 hours after ingesting beet juice. The highest dose of juice (four doses), which was in concentrated 70 mL shots, produced the best results—a 3 percent decrease in oxygen consumption.

In an interview with Asker Jeukendrup, a sports nutrition scientist, Jones said the evidence is strong that beets have an effect on sports performance.

“I don’t think there’s much doubt that nitrate has physiological effects,” he said. “The evidence for dietary nitrate-reducing resting blood pressure, and therefore potentially impacting positively on cardiovascular health, is really robust. The key now is to find out in which populations and sporting events it may be most effective in improving performance.”

A newer study in 2016, led by Lex Verdijk at the Maastricht University in the Netherlands, was conducted on soccer players. The players who drank two concentrated beet shots per day, on average, covered a 3.4 percent greater distance in a series of sprints at progressively faster paces. Their heart rate was also lower than those taking a placebo.

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