This article was originally written on July 30, 2019 and fully updated on April 2, 2022.
Beet juice is a popular supplement among endurance athletes, but is it really effective? Let’s dive into that question!
The beet is a vegetable that is very rich in nitrates. Following the ingestion of a nitrate concentrate in the form of beet juice or beet powder, the nitrates are converted into nitrites and then nitric oxide. The consumption of a nitrate concentrate can reduce oxygen consumption during exercise, since in the presence of nitric oxide, the muscles need less oxygen to perform the same effort. Each breath is therefore more effective, the body becomes tired less quickly and can tolerate intense effort for a longer period of time. Consumption of a nitrate concentrate may possibly increase the time it takes to reach exhaustion of 16% to 25% during high intensity effort, which can result in a decrease of up to 2% in race time.
The effects of beet juice have been demonstrated for use within various sports including running, cycling and rowing. The benefits of a beet juice supplement have mostly been demonstrated for efforts lasting 5 to 30 minutes, with limited evidence available on its benefits for longer durations or for intermittent sports. Studies suggest that with cycling, a 500 ml portion of beet juice could improve performance over relatively short distances (4 to 16 km) in untrained and moderately trained subjects.
Most studies suggest that beet juice may be effective in improving endurance performance for less trained athletes. However, according to a more recent study, beet juice could also be beneficial for elite athletes, provided they consume enough of it. In the study in question, the consumption of 140 ml per day of beet juice concentrated in nitrates for a period of four days was shown to be effective in improving oxygen consumption (VO2) and performance during a 10 km bike race in trained cyclists compared to those who took a placebo.
Beet supplementation can also combat the lack of nitric oxide under hypoxic conditions and thus help promote better performance at higher altitudes. It could also increase apnea performance by greatly reducing the metabolic cost.
To achieve the desired effects, it is recommended to consume a dose of 5 to 12 mmol of nitrates, equivalent to about half a liter (16 oz) of beet juice or 2 shooters of beetroot concentrate, two to three hours before effort and for a period of 1 to 15 days. The protocols generally used are either to consume it daily, or for a few days before an important event. It is recommended to avoid chewing gum or using mouthwash as they reduce the bacteria in the mouth that are essential for converting nitrate to nitric oxide.