Beetroot juice as a supplement has become a big trend in the sports nutrition world. There is now a huge amount of research taking place in dietary nitrate (found in beetroot) with some strong evidence of its benefits, so it is hardly surprising that it is becoming so popular. However, does nitrate need to be supplemented or is this just another fad? Let’s take a little look into what it is and how it works.
What does dietary nitrate do?
Dietary nitrate is an ion found in food. Once you have consumed nitrate it is converted in the body to nitrite and stored and circulated in the blood. In conditions of low oxygen availability, nitrite can be converted into nitric oxide, which is known to play several important roles in vascular and metabolic control. Dietary nitrate supplementation increases plasma nitrite concentration and can help reduce resting blood pressure.
In some individuals nitrate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of submaximal exercise, which can enhance exercise tolerance (preventing fatigue) and performance hence the interest in the sports nutrition world!
It is important to point out at this stage that there is a lot of individual variability with dietary nitrate. Not everyone will benefit from consuming nitrate rich foods or drinks due to every individual having a different ability to convert nitrate to nitrite. So, whether the nitrite then impacts exercise economy of oxygen cost for exercise and performance will vary too.
However, if nitrate does reduce oxygen cost of submaximal exercise then it can also benefit performance, but both of the above need to happen in that order to have a positive impact.
Why beetroot juice?
Beetroot along with other vegetables such as spinach, and lettuce are rich in dietary nitrate. The food first approach should always be taken and recommended to you by sports nutritionists/dietitians however, whole food nitrate concentrations can vary. For example, nitrate can be affected by the growing conditions of the vegetables or the cooking method.
Beetroot is commonly used in sports nutrition due to it being easier to buy in a liquid form and the ability to control the concentration of nitrate, you can also add foods like ginger and lemon too to make it a nice, refreshing drink!!
However, consuming nitrate in other forms should have a similar affect, you may just have to eat a full bag of spinach to get the ideal 300-600mg of nitrate rather than simple drinking a couple of beetroot juice shots.
If you don’t like beetroot or supplements is more your thing then nitrate supplements work just as well too, just check the dosage!
Is timing and dosage important?
Both the timing and dosage like many nutrients in sports nutrition is key. The largest performance advantage dosage is said to be 300-600mg which is approximately 1-2 shots of beetroot juice. Studies have shown that in some endurance athletes the plasma nitrite should be elevated at its peak within 2-3 hours. So, next time you are planning your pre workout nutrition, having nitrate rich foods or beetroot shots may be worth trying out!
Nitrate advantages in sports performance:
As mentioned above, the impact nitrate can have varies greatly amongst the individuals. Those that have seen benefits from consuming beetroot juice have increased their nitric oxide levels which helps to dilate blood vessels and improve the blood flow resulting in increased oxygen delivery to muscles, which has then improved the muscles efficiency when using oxygen. Some studies have found it can also aid glucose uptake in the muscles, which could see some great benefits for carbohydrate utilisation in endurance athletes however, more research needs to be done.
As you can imagine like anything in sports nutrition there is always conflicting evidence and although there is some great research out there, not all studies have shown benefits, with some studies showing that the nitrate makes little to no difference to performance.
My advice would be if you are intrigued by this trend and enjoy beetroot juice then try the ideal dosage 2-3 hours before your endurance activity, or if you prefer the food first approach load your pre exercise meal with spinach and beetroot. Then worse case, if the nitrate doesn't have benefits on your performance there are still great health benefits coming from the other nutrients you have consumed from the vegetables.
Top Tip: If you do consume beetroot juice avoid using antibacterial mouthwash, this can affect the conversion of nitrate to nitric oxide which will affect the efficiency of the shot.
Sarah is a Registered Nutritionist with the AfN and a Sports Nutritionist with the SENr after graduating from her post graduate in Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Sarah has 10 years experience as a nutritionist, ranging from the NHS, food industry and her private 121 clinic where she works with clients ranging from weight management to improving athletic performance.
You can find out more about sarah at:
Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance - Andrew Jones: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008816/
Anita Bean: https://anitabean.co.uk/which-supplements-really-work-part-1/
Sports Dietitians Online: https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/supplements/beetroot-juice-nitrate/