Beets are considered a superfood, and for good reason. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients and are even considered a medicinal plant in some cultures. Beets and beet supplements are revered by athletes because they are an important source of energy. They are known to increase focus, lower blood pressure, improve circulation and often used as a pre-workout energy booster. Here’s how they work and why people love them.
Focus and Energy
Beets are loaded with nitrates that the body converts into energy-producing nitric oxide, which is needed to deliver oxygen throughout your body. And researchers have found that drinking beet juice greatly increases the number of nitrates in the blood, which means you have more energy. But even better, your focus may improve as your brain enjoys the benefits of increased blood and oxygen flow, too.
Beets contain natural nitrates, which are vasodilators. This means they have the ability to trigger tiny muscles around arteries causing them to open up, allowing blood to flow more freely. The effects of this chain reaction are increased circulation, which may account for why people feel more energized after drinking beet juice.
Lower Blood Pressure
Some studies show that beets have a positive impact on decreasing internal inflammation and lowering blood pressure. In fact, one study showed that 500 mL of beetroot juice lowered blood pressure just three hours after ingestion. (1) And healthier blood pressure means less fatigue, especially during times of exertion.
Beet juice increases the amount of nitric oxide levels in blood plasma, allowing a greater flow of blood to all areas of the body, and increased blood flow means that more nutrients are carried throughout the body. One study of 14 experienced, master swimmers showed increased oxygen capacity after drinking beet juice before their workouts, allowing them to swim longer before reaching exercise failure. (2) Both professional and recreational athletes have taken advantage of this benefit by using beet juice as a pre-workout booster for greater endurance and energy during training.
There is evidence that drinking beet juice mixed with apple juice can increase endurance and lower resting blood pressure. In fact, studies show that athletes who drank this combination reported better endurance with improved exercise performance. Another study at the University of Exeter found that beet juice may boost stamina and help you work out longer. (3)
Why are Beets so Powerful?
Beets are a superfood, for sure. But what gives them their superpowers? The following are just some of the nutrients that make beets a powerful energy booster.
Nitrates – Nitrates are a natural chemical found in some foods, and are converted into nitric oxide in our bodies. As mentioned above, nitric oxide supplements are popular among athletes as a pre-workout tool, because they increase blood flow and the body’s ability to transport oxygen throughout the body. And there’s even more proof of the value of the nitrates in beet juice.
In at least one study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, researchers concluded that dietary nitrate supplementation (like beet powder) lowers oxygen demand during exercise. (4) This is good news for any recreational athlete as it means your muscles need less oxygen to work as your body’s energy production becomes more efficient.
But the effects of supplementation with dietary nitrates get even better. Another double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 32 soccer players was used to see if beet juice supplementation benefitted trained soccer players during high-intensity, intermittent exercise. The study found that after just six days of supplementation with two doses of 70 mL a day, beet juice improved exercise performance and reduced heart rate, meaning even the bodies of trained athletes became more efficient. (5)
Iron – Anemia is a condition characterized by fatigue due to a lack of iron. Unfortunately, it is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the United States. There are a host of reasons why one may become anemic including; a diet that lacks iron, blood loss, or poor digestion. But consuming beets can help ensure that you don’t succumb to this energy sapping condition.
Beets are rich with iron, a component of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the substance in red blood cells that carries the oxygen from the lungs throughout the rest of the body to maintain energy levels. If you are prone to anemia, consume a diet that lacks iron, or simply cannot eat iron-rich foods every day, incorporating a beet supplement may help you get the iron your body craves.
Folate – Beets are high in B9, also known as folate. In fact, a single cup of raw beets contains nearly 40% of your daily requirement. Folate helps your body convert carbs into glucose; the energy your body needs to produce ATP, which is an important fuel your body uses for a host of metabolic tasks.
Potassium – Beets contain potassium, which is a necessary electrolyte that is easily lost through sweating, and the reason why many athletes drink electrolyte drinks. Potassium is important for muscle contraction and growth, and helps regulate heartbeat. But when potassium levels are low, you may feel exhausted as your blood vessels narrow, restricting the flow of oxygen rich blood. Luckily, just one cup of beets contains enough potassium to provide 11% of your daily requirement.
Vitamin C – We know that vitamin C can give our immune system a boost, but you might be impressed that it can be a great energy booster, too. In fact, it is a necessary nutrient that supports the body’s ability to make molecules like carnitine, which plays a critical role in energy production.
Anyone can benefit from the wealth of nutrition that beets provide. But if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like the taste of beets, try beet juice mixed with the juice of other vegetables like cucumber or celery, or use a beet supplement. Busy schedules and stress can easily drain nutrients and rob us of much needed energy, but each time you consume healthy superfoods like beets, you also increase your healthy nutrient reserves.
1 Webb, A. J., Patel, N., Loukogeorgakis, S., Okorie, M., Aboud, Z., Misra, S., … Ahluwalia, A. (2008, March). Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18250365.
2 Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-muñoz JL, et al. Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017;9(1) DOI: 10.3390/nu9010043.
3 University of Exeter. (2009, August 7). Beetroot Juice Boosts Stamina, New Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090806141520.htm
4 Larsen, F. J., Weitzberg, E., Lundberg, J. O., & Ekblom, B. (2007, September). Effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen cost during exercise. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17635415.
5 Jean, Jonvik, L., K., Jorn, M., P. J., Senden, … B., L. (2017, March 22). Beetroot Juice Supplementation Improves High-Intensity Intermittent Type Exercise Performance in Trained Soccer Players. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/3/314/htm.