Beets and their derivatives will improve performance in
high-intensity, endurance, and power activities



Objective: The objective of this
narrative review is to examine the effects of beet consumption and athletes to
enhance exercise performance.

Background: The research and compilation
of this narrative review was to achieve a required assignment in Sports
Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism class for the online Human Nutrition and
Functional Medicine program at the University of Western States in Portland,

Methods: An extensive search of The W.A.
Budden Library Database, Pubmed, and Google Scholar was performed to collect
precise reviews relating to the title and hypothesis. The following terms related
to the title and hypothesis that were used include: “Beet consumption enhances
performance in athletes”, and “Beet juice effects on CrossFit athletes.” Research
findings comprised over 400 articles that matched the search criteria, using full-text
articles published between 2012 and 2017.

Discussion: This narrative review examines
the effects of beets and their derivatives and the enhancement exercise performance
in runners, cyclists, and CrossFit athletes.

Conclusion: The narrative review confirmed
consuming beets or beet derivatives as a part of regular dietary intake, prior
to a workout or race, or as use of an ergogenic aid enhances exercise
performance in athletes.

Key words: Beets, beetroot juice, beetroot,
nitrite, nitrate, athlete, performance enhancement, nitric oxide, ergogenic aid,
running, cycling, CrossFit, endurance, high-intensity, and power activities.





In the mind of an
athlete, performance enhancement is one of the most important facets of
measuring improvement when it comes to training and competition. Therefore,
athletes are constantly striving to research all aspects that may affect their
athletic abilities and capabilities. This includes trying new diets, training
methods, training times, training programs, styles of shoes, types of training
gear, and most commonly nutritional supplements or ergogenic aids to help
improve their performance. An example of an ergogenic aid may be utilizing a
simple branched chain amino acid to increase endurance, a pre- or intra-
workout supplement containing compounds to buffer muscle fatigue or improve circulation,
producing more energy, and improving performance (Dunford & Doyle, 2015). Other forms of ergogenic
aids are available in a variety of forms including synthetic drugs such as
prohormones or steroids, natural forms of dietary supplements including
vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and due to cost efficiency, many choose whole
foods or their food products. Whole food sources highest in nitrates consumed consistently
in one’s diet have become increasingly prevalent more recently due to a
resulting increase of nitric oxide (NO) that is produced and its effects on the
body when a nitrate containing food is consumed (Vaughan, Gannon, & Carriker, 2016). Although nitrates
may be found as preservative in many foods, the most common form consumed that
is beneficial to health is naturally occurring in most vegetables. The
effectiveness however, depends on how many foods are being consistently
consumed with a high content of nitrates (Williams, 2012). Overall, more studies and research
have verified consumption of nitrate-rich foods, particularly beets, have been
proven to increase performance in various types of athletic events (Vaughan, Gannon, & Carriker, 2016).


One of the most well-liked
foods used for athletic performance enhancement coming from a natural source is
beetroot or beetroot juice (BRJ). Due to their exceptional source of micronutrients,
BRJ contains a natural form of nitrate (NO3) promoting increased levels of NO
leading to vasodilation, increased blood flow, and increased energy. BRJ also
contains, a multitude of antioxidants, vitamin c, betaine, electrolytes (magnesium,
potassium, sodium), and other natural detoxifying properties that are beneficial
to health (Ormsbee, Lox, & Arciero, 2013). Among all of these
excellent health benefits, and compared to other nitrate containing foods and
vegetables, beets are among the highest of NO and NO3 content. NO acts as a
vasodilator on smooth muscle tissue by stimulating a relaxation response. As
the muscle, arteries, and veins relax, the body responds with an increase in
blood flow and circulation of nutrients throughout the body, and to the muscle
tissue.  This can happen in both
instances of exercise as well as when the body is at rest. If the amount of
oxygen in the body becomes low, the body’s natural response is to convert the amino
acid L-Arginine and nitrite found from dietary consumption to NO. As nitrate is
supplemented in the diet, in turn, the body’s plasma nitrite concentration
increases, resulting in many additional health benefits. These include a
reduction in blood pressure, the amount of oxygen needed for exercise, as well
as a heightened tolerance for exercise and performance intensity (Jones, 2014). This enhanced
tolerance of performance occurs as calcium interacts with a few enzymes inside
the cell, stimulating a chain of reactions, increasing the myocyte mitochondrial
cells, and the amount of oxygen utilized for metabolic function (Vaughan, Gannon, & Carriker, 2016). Consuming BRJ
containing nitrates may also have an additional effect promoting an advantageous
phenotype in skeletal muscle cells of certain athletes, resulting in a hereditarily
increased myocyte mitochondrial efficiency, and complete mitochondrial content (Vaughan, Gannon, & Carriker, 2016).


The purpose of
this narrative review is to integrate the information currently available on
the effects of BRJ and the enhancement of exercise performance in athletes. After
reviewing all collected information, there is sufficient evidence across runners,
cyclists, and CrossFit athletes that support consumption of beets, BRJ, and
their derivatives, to enhance exercise performance in athletes even though many
studies were found to have small population sizes. BRJ have been correlated to
improvements in muscle efficiency by permitting a vaster output of work with
the same utilization of energy (Jones, 2014).
These results would translate into improved exercise performance. Finally, the current
evidence evaluated and utilized in this review concludes using BRJ consumption
as an ergogenic aid is useful for athletes aiming to enhance their exercise
performance in areas of high-intensity, endurance, and power. In this review,
athletes of running, cycling, and CrossFit have been analyzed with the
consumption of BRJ to discuss the effectiveness of enhancing exercise
performance. However, research demonstrates that regular consumption or a
larger dose pre-exercise of BRJ is important for athletes trying to utilize
this supplement as an effective ergogenic aid.



Extensive research
of The W.A. Budden Library Database, Pubmed, and Google Scholar were performed
to collect precise reviews relating to the title and hypothesis. These
databases were selected utilizing filters for quality and were based upon the
following: most current information, relevancy of topics, including beets/beet
root juice and the impact on performance in athletes. The following terms
related to the title and hypothesis that were used to search include: “Beet
consumption enhances performance in athletes”, and “Beet juice effects on CrossFit
athletes.” Research findings concluded in over 400 articles meeting the search
criteria. Due to the volume of articles resulting from the search, the
inclusion criteria of articles were restricted to: those published between 2012
and 2017, discussed beet nitrate supplementation on exercise performance,
nitrates used as supplements in CrossFit athletes, nitrate use in
high-intensity exercise and cycling, and beetroot consumption in runners.
Additionally, criteria included were articles that precisely measured athletes
of high-intensity, endurance, and power such as cycling, running, and CrossFit
to encompass well-rounded results of BRJ, and its nitrates as a beneficial
supplement for enhancing exercise performance. Articles excluded were those
that discussed non-athletes, other forms of nitrate not related to beets, or that
had no effects on exercise performance.



The history of nitrate
consumption has been associated with many beneficial effects on health
including inhibiting cancer and cardiovascular risks, reducing blood pressure,
improved function of blood cells, lymph cells, and exercise endurance (Murphy, Eliot, Heuertz, & Weiss, 2012). Due to nitrate
sources functioning as vasodilatory agents, beets and their derivatives such as
beet root juice or beet root powder may be important nutrients for Runners,
Cyclists, and CrossFit Athletes to consume daily in order to increase exercise
performance in areas of high-intensity, endurance, and power.


Study 1 – Runners

In this
double-blind, crossover study, whole beetroot was tested to link nitrate intake
to enhanced exercise performance, and endurance. The study sample size was comprised
of 11 male and female adults who were instructed to consume 200g whole baked beetroot
BR (500mg nitrate), then were tested one hour later in a timed 5km treadmill trial.
Measurements recorded include heart rate, perceived exertion, and velocity. Participants
completed a 5min warmup prior to the test, set their own pace for the 5km run, were
all instructed to finish in as short of time as possible. Results of BR
consumption concluded an enhanced running performance by measuring elevated
markers of velocity, exercise time to exhaustion, and an accompanied decreased
perceived exertion (Murphy, Eliot, Heuertz, & Weiss, 2012). Although indication
from this study suggests 200g BR or similar nitrate dose from other vegetables need
to be ingested 60min before exercise in order to derive ergogenic effects.
Other studies have obtained similar results from nitrate supplementation doses
ranging from 347mg to 476mg/day, as well as utilizing other forms of nitrate
supplements (Murphy, Eliot, Heuertz, & Weiss, 2012).


Study 2 – Cyclists

 Velocity of muscle contraction has been known
to increase in the presence of NO (Rimer, Peterson, Coggan, & Martin, 2016). Ingestion of BRJ
nitrates, NO availability increases allowing muscle power to increases in
cyclists. In a double-blind, crossover study, a population sample size of 13
trained cyclists were tested to a max load cycling trial utilizing the ANOVA
scale, consuming nitrate rich BRJ. Participants were instructed to ingest 2-
70mL doses BRJ within 30min of the trial to ensure post drink cycling sprints
occurred during elevation of plasma nitrate for the greatest effects to take
place (Rimer, Peterson, Coggan, & Martin, 2016). Result findings
concluded that dietary BRJ nitrate enhances exercise performance in terms of
explosiveness, increase muscle power, muscle-force production, and total
cumulative work of multiple cycling sprints if short in duration. Elevated
plasma nitrate induces the delivery of increase levels of oxygen to muscles
leading to increased neuromuscular signaling, blood flow, and contraction of fast
and slow-twitch muscle fibers (Rimer, Peterson, Coggan, & Martin, 2016).


Study 3 – CrossFit

While CrossFit is
a heavily dependent on power as a sport, it also includes high-intensity,
strength, and endurance activities. Test groups were instructed to avoid all
nitrate containing foods, strenuous exercise, alcohol, and caffeine, logging
their dietary intake. Prior to performance testing, biometric measurements taken
included height, weight, body composition, body fat, various forms of strength
testing, peak VO2, 2K rowing time trial, maximal power on a cycle ergometer,
and the “Grace” workout was performed all as benchmarks.  This was a randomized, double-blind crossover
study, in which nitrates were ingested for 6 days each consisting of 8 mmol
split between morning and evening doses. Results of this testing found NO
supplementation lead to increased plasma nitrite values, increased power, a reduction
in the metabolic cost of exercise, however strength and endurance showed no
significant measurement of improvement (Kramer, Baur, Spicer, Vukovich, & Ormsbee, 2016).



There were
several limitations to the information examined in this review among all
athletes including a small population size of the patient studies (n<15), variation between studies of the duration of nitrate supplementation, dose of BRJ, and normal diet consisted throughout the duration of supplementation (Jones, 2014). This could be problematic as there could be consumption of other nitrate-rich foods or supplements altering the effect of the studied dosage and its effects on exercise performance. Another limitation during the testing of cyclists was maximum power or Pmax tested between trials were of 2 different levels adding to the confounding variables affecting testing results between groups.  Also, among the sport of CrossFit, "Grace" is a common benchmark workout used as a measurement of performance, however, due to small population sizes and for small measurements recorded not significant enough to publicize, a better test may have been chosen. Also, due to participants only completing each exercise one time, there may be a learning effects affecting results to newer subjects (Kramer, Baur, Spicer, Vukovich, & Ormsbee, 2016).     Conclusion The objective of this review was to analyze the nutritional implementation of beets and beet root juice as an ergogenic aid to enhance exercise performance in athletes. Majority of young adults consume at least one nutritional supplement, most of which are at least to boost energy for daily need and more commonly performance needs (Martinez, Campbell, Franek, Buchanan, & Colquhoun, 2016). Consumption of pre-workout dietary supplements is becoming even more popular among all levels of athletes, since the studies proving beneficial effects on exercise performance are becoming increasingly more evident.   BRJ supplementation has been proven through many research and studies to have positive effects on enhancing exercise performance through speed, delayed fatigue, steady oxygen consumption, elevated power output, and endurance (Ormsbee, Lox, & Arciero, 2013). However, since NO supplementation can be obtained directly, the body needs ample supplementation through the diet in order to converts nitrites to nitrate for availability (Ormsbee, Lox, & Arciero, 2013). More research needs to be conducted on the optimal nutritional doses, and which form of nitrates are to be the most effective for each type of sport. However, studies have confirmed BRJ nitrate supplementation results in a positive outcome upon measuring endurance exercise capacity, power, and high-intensity time-trial performance of shorter durations (McMahon, Leveritt, & Pavey, 2017).   Although there is a great need for more research, there is ample information to provide safe and proven supplemental guidance for implementing BRJ supplementation nutritionists can recommend to their patients and athletes wishing to enhance exercise performance. Safe recommendations of Beet juice or beet nitrate for performance in athletes includes doses of 300-600mg at a single serving or consumed regularly for up to 2 weeks. Upon this consumption for exercise effectiveness of increased performance, other health benefits may follow influences blood flow, and reduces the amount of oxygen needed for exercise (Dunford & Doyle, 2015).          

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