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Beetroot juice bolsters athletic performance, study finds

Monday 04 July 2011 00:00 BST
(All rights reserved)

Now there are more good reasons to drink your beets. According to new research from Exeter University in the UK, beetroot juice could give your workouts a powerful boost.

In the study, professional cyclists who drank about a pint of store-bought beetroot juice before riding in a simulated competition shaved vital seconds off their finish time - which could be crucial in a sport where seconds often make the difference between winning and losing.

Beetroot juice is already touted as a health tonic for enhancing sexual function and digestion, lowering blood pressure, sharpening brain power, increasing energy, and even bolstering stamina.

The performance boost, researchers say, is due to the high levels of nitrates in beetroot juice. While it's not clear how it works, they suspect that when nitrate turns into nitric oxide in the body, it reduces the amount of oxygen required to perform exercise. High concentrations of nitrates are also found in celery, cabbage, and other leafy green vegetables such as spinach and some lettuce.

Previous studies by the university have attempted to uncover the impacts of beetroot juice on physical activity. A study released last summer revealed that beetroot juice enhanced performance in endurance athletes while lowering resting blood pressure. Researchers claimed that beetroot juice could help increase exercise time by 16 percent and in ways that couldn't be achieved by training. Yet the latest research from Exeter went a step further to claim that beetroot juice can be effective in a competitive environment.

Another study from Exeter, recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that drinking about 500ml (a little over 2 cups) a day of beetroot juice can reduce oxygen re-uptake and make low-intensity activities, such as walking, less exhausting for seniors, especially those with heart and breathing problems.

UK juice company James White, who provided the beet juice for the studies, sells a bottled beet juice called Beet It that is 90 percent organic beet juice and 10 percent apple juice, which the company claims smoothes "over the slightly earthy aftertaste of beetroot juice on its own." A US manufacturer is Biotta Juices, which sells a bottled 100 percent fermented beet juice. Wake Forest University in the US is working with a company to create a new beet juice beverage that they claim will be tasty, and they hope to bring the product to market soon.

For at-home juicers, even hardcore health aficionados urge to never drink beet juice without a mixer, such as with other vegetables or apple juice, and to not overdo it. Pure beet juice (from the bulb or greens) could temporarily paralyze your vocal chords, make you break out in hives, increase your heart rate, or cause chills or a fever. So juice with caution.

Announced July 1, the research was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Access the abstract here.

Learn more about bottled beet juice products:

New to beet juice? Watch a video of a simple at-home recipe:

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