Beetroot Juice: Does It Improve Athletic Performance?

Before a Swim/ Workout, many of us would drink smoothies or eat protein bars to level up our carbs and protein intake. These pre-workout snacks are meant to give us the energy and stamina to get more from our routines and boost our recovery time. Recently there has been much hype about adding some nitrate-rich beetroot juice to our workout plan which can enhance our stamina, strength, and endurance.

No doubt beetroot is a big endurance boosting super food but How much exactly one needs to consume? And the biggest question is WHEN it needs to be consumed?

So before we answer all these questions, let’s check the benefits of beets or beetroot juice.

  1. Beetroot is a nutrient dense vegetable and has lot of health benefits.
  2. It is rich in Vitamins A, B and C; antioxidants beta-carotene and beta-cyanine; folic acid, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, iron, and fibre.
  3. Beetroots get their red colour from Betalain pigments, which work as both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
  4. Beetroot is also packed with large amounts of inorganic nitrates and these NITRATES are the only ones that give the elite athletes, the competitive edge.

Benefits of Nitrates

A study done in 2010 at the University of Exeter about the benefits of nitrates concluded that they boost a cyclist's endurance by 16 percent. Dietary nitrates get converted to nitrite by friendly bacteria in the saliva on the surface of the tongue. This nitrite is reduced to Nitric Oxide (NO) in the stomach.

NO is a powerful vasodilator & commonly used as a supplement in the bodybuilding world to pump and help with endurance. Since Nitric oxide is quickly destroyed in the body, its vasodilator effects are brief. Nitric oxide’s vasodilation effect is extremely important for athletes for the following reasons:

  1. It increases nutrient & oxygen delivery to the skeletal muscles which in turn increases strength & endurance.
  2. It reduces the amount of lactic acid produced during exercise and extends the amount of time until exhaustion.
  3. It is also known to speed up the removal of the exercise-generated ammonia and increase glucose uptake by cells.

An article published in 2012 by the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed the improvement of twelve trained cyclists in a 10km time trial. The six-day dietary nitrate supplementation in these cyclists was reported to reduce pulmonary oxygen uptake during submaximal exercise. Participants were also reported to have increased tolerance to high-intensity work rates.

Apart from beets, nitrates is also found in spinach, celery, fennel, parsley, radish, lettuce & Chinese Cabbage.

Does Nitrates in Beetroot Improve Athletic Performance?

The Exeter-led study stated, “drinking beetroot juice boosts your stamina and could help you exercise for up to 16% longer.”  This study suggests that dietary nitrate supplementation in the form of beetroot juice not only reduces the amount of oxygen needed during exercise but also enhances athletic performance along with decreasing blood pressure.

Other Health Benefits

  1. Beetroot juice improves hydration of an athlete. It is high in potassium which can help in electrolyte balance.
  2. Betain, the red colour pigment has anti-inflammatory effect which is important for an athlete in reducing risk of inflammation & illness.
  3. Betain also has anti-cancer properties which can protect against stomach & colon cancer.
  4. It helps in liver detoxification.
  5. High fibre content of beetroot helps with regular bowel movements.
  6. It also contains tryptophan which relaxes the mind & gives good sleep.

The only side effect of beetroot juice is red colouration of urine & bowels but that is harmless. However, athletes who have history of oxalate kidney stones should avoid beets as they are high in oxalates.

So beetroot is like a whole food supplement you might be looking for.

Below are few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the consumption of beetroot juice:

Q1: Which form of beet is best - juice, concentrate or powder?

Well, the initial study on beets used juice & suggested 500 ml of beet juice for improved performance. Since then athletes have been using beetroot juice. Now concentrated juices & powders are available in the market. The most recent study at the University of Exeter used concentrated beet juice which showed similar results like fresh beet juice. Regarding beet powder still researches are required to prove its efficacy.

In India, however, concentrated beet juices aren’t easily available like abroad. So, fresh beet juice is a great option as it is fresh & devoid of preservatives.

Q2: How Much?

Initial study used 500 ml or 2 cups of juice which is quite a lot. New data shows improvement from 300 ml, so you need to discover the dosage that works for you. Young athletes can start with 200 – 250 ml juice & can gradually increase the quantity.

Q3: Whether an athlete must drink it fast or slow?

As mentioned above, nitrates get converted to nitrites in our saliva by the bacteria which is an important step & should not be overlooked. Since this conversion takes time, it is suggested to drink beet juice slowly to increase nitrate contact with bacteria. Avoid using mouthwash or toothpaste immediately after drinking juice as it will wash off nitrates from the saliva.

Q4: Which is the best time to consume beet juice?

It is always recommendable to drink it 1.5 to 2 hours before an event or practice session as the entire conversion process from nitrates to nitric oxide needs time. Try to avoid taking it just before an event as it can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Beetroot juice can thus improve your endurance but make sure your intake is consistent. Do not expect overnight results. Above all, a swimmer needs to focus on the rest of the diet also in order to improve timings. Beet juice along with good nutrition is the key to improve stamina, strength, and endurance in an amateur athlete!

Author: Rashmi Cherian

Registered Dietitian (License No 61/08), Certified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist

Founder Wellness Vows


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SwimIndia does not guarantee results of any sort, before making any changes to your diet plans, please consult an expert.

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