Loving the BITE: More Muscle Oxygen with One Key Ingredient


Beetroot Juice.  Have you heard?  It’s said to be the newest, greatest, most effective fueling ingredient to hit cycling in recent times.  Yes, there’s currently a lot of hype.  Some of the claims are definitely legit, and some are a bit of a stretch.  In research (which has actually been conducted on beetroot juice for years), the results are pretty convincing: slightly faster, better times, easier cycling with less effort, more oxygen distribution by the bloodstream and more oxygen uptake by the muscles, and more stamina.  But, miracle in a bottle? While nothing replaces training and good overall fueling (the research participants are mostly pros and well-trained cyclists), sometimes, every little bit helps.

Recipe of the Week #1:

Easy, Pre-Training Drink


  • 8-12 oz. Beetroot juice OR 4-6 tsp beetroot freeze-dried powder in 8-12 oz. water
  • 1 Tbsp organic honey
  • 1/8 tsp salt (optional – helpful in high humidity/heat, or for those who sweat A LOT – you know who you are)


Mix well and drink ~2 hours before training.

(Approximately 115 calories, 27 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, up to 300 mg sodium, and 0 grams protein)

Recipe of the Week #2:

Pre-Training Smoothie Revisited, with Beetroot (for Training >3 hours)


  • 8-12 oz. Beetroot juice OR 4-6 tsp beetroot freeze-dried powder in 8-12 oz. water
  • 1 Tbsp organic honey
  • 1 small banana (4”)
  •  1 cup frozen or fresh berries
  • 1/4 cup cooked oatmeal OR 2 Tbsp Chiaseeds
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 scoop whey
  •  1/2 Tbsp organic coconut oil
  • 1/8 tsp salt (optional – helpful in high humidity/heat, or for those who sweat A LOT – you know who you are)
  • water/ice as needed for consistency

Amino acids: Add ~5 gm l-glutamine and ~5 gm Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) before intense or long workouts


1.Mix well and drink 2 hours before training.

(Approximately: 470 calories,  60 grams carbs, 10 grams fiber, up to 400 mg sodium, 35 gm protein)


Of course, I love it when a whole food, or something close to a whole food, offers wonderful benefits that directly improve performance, health, and recovery.  The list of whole foods we’ve discussed goes on and on, including organic honey, organic coconut oil, Chia seeds, Greek yogurt, and more.  This week, let’s discuss beets, beetroot juice, and beetroot powder.

The Research:

The research on beetroot juice and performance began after it was shown that nitrates could increase nitric oxide in the body, which in turn dilates vessels and improves the delivery and use of oxygen (as wider vessels allow for better bloodflow).  From there, researchers began to hypothesize that foods rich in nitrates, not just the isolated chemical, could do the same.

Beets are very rich in nitrates, and beetroot juice is a concentrated form.  Preliminary studies showed a reduction in oxygen cost during moderate and intense training, increased time to exhaustion, and improved performance.  However, these early studies used a 6-day regimen of beetroot juice supplementation, and used other juice (like black currant) as placebo.  The issue here is that both juices have high amounts of antioxidants and many different nutritive components that may be contributing to the performance improvements.

Most recently, a method was derived to remove the nitrates from beetroot juice so that the researchers could compare nitrate-beetroot juice to non-nitrate-beetroot juice.  Also, both a 6-day (16 oz./day) and pre-ride method were used…and both sets of results were convincing.  The improvements in each were shown for the nitrate-beetroot juice group only.

Benefits of Nitrates:

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.


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?

Enjoy Your Ride

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18 Responses to “ Loving the BITE: More Muscle Oxygen with One Key Ingredient ”

  1. joe on April 7, 2015 at 1:47 am

    Hi my name is joe if any one is intrested buying beet powder i have 8ounce bottles. Its true beets are also

  2. mj on February 6, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I read that 1Tsp. of beetroot powder is equivalent to 1 beet. If that’s so, isn’t 4-6 Tsp. a lot of sugar?

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  5. Judy on August 25, 2013 at 1:24 pm

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

    • Kelli, RD on September 10, 2013 at 11:24 pm

      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!

  6. Martin Miller Poynter on May 31, 2013 at 2:57 pm

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

  7. Donna on May 9, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    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 !

  8. Slim on March 29, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    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,

    • Kelli Jennings on April 2, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      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!

  9. BanTshirts on March 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm

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

    • Kelli Jennings on April 2, 2013 at 10:45 pm

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

  10. Frank on March 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    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.

    • Kelli Jennings on March 21, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      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…

  11. Adam on March 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm

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

    • Kelli Jennings on March 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm

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

  12. Jen on March 21, 2013 at 12:16 pm

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

    • Kelli Jennings on March 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm

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


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Sugar Alternatives for Energy and Hydration

Question: I am using the homebrew sugar formulations (sometimes added to green tea).  I am also trying to wean myself off 1/2 dose adrenalean “lip tonic delivery system” (biorhythm brand- caffeine, hoodia g, synephrine, yohimbe) capsule for energy.

My question is other than juice, can you suggest modifications in lieu of table sugar for energy and hydration.


Both raw/organic honey or agave can work great in the homebrew (substitute in the same quantities for the sugar, or to taste), but you do have to shake well in order to make sure they don’t settle out.  Have you tried either of these?  Also, make sure to use at least the minimum amount of salt recommended in the homebrew as the temps rise, you need the sodium replacement if you’re sweating.

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Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.

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