Loving the BITE: More Muscle Oxygen with One Key Ingredient

The nitrates and subsequent nitric oxide work in two ways.   First, they dilate vessels, making it easier for blood, oxygen, and nutrients to reach their intended targets.  Next, they actually decrease the amount of oxygen needed by muscle fibers – so, you get a 2-for-1 muscle oxygen benefit from these natural chemical found in beets.

In Practice:

This is usually where research and the everyday athlete don’t mix.  The studies used ~16 oz. (500 mL) beetroot juice for either 6 days OR 2-2.5 hours before training/racing.  At over $3 per 16 oz., it may or may not be worth the cost to achieve these 3-6%-ish improvements in oxygen usage and decreased fatigue.  Especially considering all the other costs of sports nutrition – the drinks, gels, bars, supplements, and healthy daily foods. This is also where your friendly sports nutritionist comes in – my job is often to bridge research to practical advice you can use.

Working in approximates, 500 mL (~16 oz.) beetroot juice is derived from ~8 beets (2-inch diameters).  This amount of juice provides ~384 gm nitrates.  You can go ahead and simply drink the juice if it’s not cost prohibitive to you.  Or, you can look for freeze-dried beetroot powder.  There are several companies online that sell it – look for bulk prices and 1-pound bags rather than small little supplement jars.  Usually, 1 tsp of powder is the equivalent of 1 beet, so 8 tsp equates to 8 beets or 16 oz. beetroot juice.  Even organic powders can save you quite a bit of cash, coming in at under $1 per serving (8 tsp) rather than over $3.  Freeze drying tends to be one of the best methods of preserving nutrients, as it is usually done quickly after harvest, occurs at low temperatures (temperatures over 110 deg F can destroy or alter these dynamic plant nutrients), and is shelf stable for years.  Juice may be a simpler choice, but the methods for juicing can be variable in temperatures, concentrating and reconstituting, and storage.

Recommendations:

Beets have a lot of good for you, beyond the nitrates.  I recommend using them in Daily Nutrition as much as possible, as much as you’d like.  As we’ve discussed previously, they taste great in smoothies and lend a beautiful hue (which can mask the green/brown hue that results from adding greens to our smoothies).  The week of a “big” race or event, go ahead and throw beetroot powder, juice or beets into a smoothie daily for 6 days.  Then, 2 hours before your event, use one of the pre-training options above (drink or smoothie).  Of note, with the simple non-smoothie drink, you’ll likely need additional nutrients before any event that lasts more than 60 minutes.  And lastly, beware that consuming beets, beetroot juice or beet powder can make your urine turn reddish-pink.  May be an alarming sight, but there’s no harm.

That’s the skinny on beetroot juice.  Yes, it’s exciting. And, yes, it’s only one component of a much bigger picture of training and proper fuel.  The foundation is laid in good, wholesome, daily nutrition and supplementation (exciting, right!?!).  Your performance is improved with optimal, adequate Training Nutrition before, during (every hour), and after training (exciting, right!?!).  And, your ride can be boosted with a simple ingredient like Beets.  I’ll take more oxygen delivery and less oxygen requirements on my next “big” ride.  Yes please.  Will you?

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  • Judy

    Is much of the Nitrate destroyed or compromised in freeze dried powdered beets ?

    • Kelli, RD

      Hi Judy,
      Fortunately, no, not a significant amount. Many nutrients are lost with heat, but freeze drying tends to leave more intact. A good source/company should be able to tell you the nitrate range for their powder (even fresh beets will have a range of nitrates as it depends on the soil and more). I hope this helps!

  • Martin Miller Poynter

    I enjoy fresh juiced beets with lemon and other greens also. Looks like now I’ll have to start drinking these before my ride.

  • Donna

    Ugh, your tennis player here w spinning head, beet juice/powder, how much more can a grandmother take? Ok, six days prior is what, loading period? Can I just stick in home brew???? Love you all with your free spirits !

  • Slim

    I’ve found several Beet Root Powder providers but it seems most of them use low-temp drying methods, does that significantly decrease the benefits of this? Thanks,

    • http://twitter.com/fuelright Kelli Jennings

      Hello and thanks for the question. The low-temp drying is a good thing and retains the nutrients much better than higher-heat drying. Many “living” nutrients like enzymes, vitamins, minerals, etc can become damaged or completely ineffective when heated above 110 deg F. It’s more painstaking for the food manufacturer as it takes a lot more time to dry foods at lower heat, but it’s much better nutritionally. So, this is great!

  • http://www.bant-shirts.com BanTshirts

    Sounds good. It’s not something I ever eat, so I definitely need to start. Thanks for the tip!

    • http://twitter.com/fuelright Kelli Jennings

      Hello – I hope you like it. Let us know if you notice the effects on the bike!

  • Frank

    So for an average recreational athlete it probably won’t do much? It sounds interesting and I might just give it a go anyway. Just taking it might make me feel better even if it really isn’t doing much.

    • http://twitter.com/fuelright Kelli Jennings

      Hi Frank, It will still likely have the same effects, its just a matter of whether the results are worth the cost (especially if we’re talking 16 oz. beetroot juice several times per week). But, yes, the nitrites should cause nitric oxide to dilate your vessels. It’s good for your heart anyway, and the other nutrients in beets and beet powder are very healthful (lots of antioxidants). So, yeah, I think you’ll feel great! Let us know…

  • Adam

    Very interesting stuff. I’ve learnt a lot of great information here about cycling and nutrition. Thanks guys for putting out good educational content.

    • http://twitter.com/fuelright Kelli Jennings

      You’re very welcome Adam. Thanks for reading! Take care!

  • Jen

    I love beets but never tried beetroot juice. Thanks for this suggestion and the information as I’m sure to try this out.

    • http://twitter.com/fuelright Kelli Jennings

      You’re welcome Jen – I hope you like it! And, if not, just keep on with the whole food beets!