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Beet Juice: A Natural Way to Increase Endurance

By Ben Hirshberg

Beet juice has been popular with endurance athletes because of recent experiments showing beet juice to increase the distance one can bike over a placebo. At first it was unsure what was responsible for the endurance increase, but researchers were able to filter out the nitrate content of beet juice and found that when athletes were given beet juice without the nitrates, they couldn’t bike any further than when given a placebo.

The nitrates in beet juice allow athletes to exercise using less oxygen than normal. This is accomplished because nitrates turn into nitric oxide in the body, which decreases the amount of oxygen used when exercising. The effect of a decreased oxygen cost is an increase in ground covered.

Fresh golden and red beets from the garden

Exeter University, a British research university, has led the way with its beet juice research. In one Exeter University experiment, participants were given a half liter of beet juice or similar placebo for six days in a row before being tested. The results were significant: the beet juice group was on average able to cycle for fifteen percent longer than the placebo group.

Another experiment was run by Exeter, this time with participants drinking their half liter of beet juice only once, several hours before being tested on a bike. The results were even better this go-round, with up to a twenty percent increase in distance cycled over the placebo.

Those who advise drinking beet juice are an impressive group of athletes, advisors, and coaches. Andy Jones, an adviser to marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe said, "We were amazed by the effects of beetroot juice on oxygen uptake.”

Another marathoner and member of the 2012 United States Olympic team Ryan Hall is a beet juice drinker. Hall had this to say about his second place finish at the Olympic trials, “I can’t say it was all thanks to beet juice, but I’m running well, so I’m going to keep drinking it.”

Sports physiologist Allen Lim, a cyclist trainer who has worked with the likes of Lance Armstrong has this to say about beet juice: “I’ve seen some of the best real-world performances from athletes who make it part of their diet.”

Beet juice has potential to be helpful for other situations than athletic competition. The most recent research from the Exeter University group has found that drinking beet juice decreases the oxygen cost of low level activity such as walking.

Beet juice seems like it may be a valuable addition to any active person’s diet, and especially useful to those that compete athletically. Other vegetables such as lettuce and spinach have high nitrate contents as well, making them viable options for those wanting to take advantage of the decreased oxygen cost that comes with an increase in nitric oxide.