Thursday, June 1, 2023

How beets improve physical endurance

Beets help improve endurance due to their nitrates, which increase blood flow raising exercise capacity and VO2 max.

Beets are known to increase blood flow, muscle function as well as brain activity. So they are expected to improve sports-related performance. Let us look at what science says in that regard.

Beets are naturally high in compounds called nitrates. When consumed, its nitrates are converted into another set of healthful compounds called nitrites at the back of your tongue. The nitrites are further converted to a compound called nitric oxide (NO) in the starting part of your digestive tract. This compound is very potent in lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow as well as exercise capacity.

Nitric Oxide Lowers Blood Pressure

Once nitric oxide is in your bloodstream, it increases the blood flow and oxygen supply to the tissues. Through some biochemical mechanisms, the muscles of the blood vessels relax, resulting in lower blood pressure.

Nitric Oxide Increases VO2 max

When one exercises, the muscles get oxygen through the blood for producing energy. However, as the exercise intensity increases beyond a certain point, the oxygen provided by the blood is not sufficient. As a result, the muscle cells switch from an oxygen-dependent energy production (aerobic) to an oxygen-independent one (anaerobic).

The anaerobic way of generating energy is very inefficient and you cannot sustain such effort for too long. This leads to rapid fatigue and forces you to slow down. The point at which the muscles switch over from aerobic to anaerobic energy production is called your metabolic threshold. That is when your aerobic capacity is exhausted, which is defined in terms of a number that all sportspeople are familiar with: VO2 max or maximum volume of oxygen that your body uses when exercising as hard as possible. As you can guess, it is a good indicator of your physical fitness.

By increasing the blood flow, nitric oxide helps muscles get more oxygen, especially the tissues that are deprived of oxygen. This effectively increases your VO2 max. While your fitness has not really increased, you will be able to function as if it has, at least for a few hours.

Since beets supply you with a good amount of nitrates, your muscles are able to get this extra amount of oxygen. As a result, the beets are expected to enhance your endurance and exercise capacity. So what does the evidence show?

Beets and Exercise Capacity

How Much Beets You Should Consume

To get the benefit for endurance improvement, how much of beets or beetroot juice should you consume?

Personally, I think 500 mL is too much beetroot juice to consume on a daily basis considering that beets are high in compounds called oxalates, which cause poor absorption of iron and calcium in the intestines. Also, oxalates may cause kidney stones in people who are prone to developing oxalate-related kidney stones. Some people may get an upset stomach with such high levels of beetroot juice consumption.

While it might be fine to consume 500 mL juice once in a while (such as on the competition day), it is best not to drink that quantity on a daily basis. Plus, don’t venture into it for the first time before your competition. Try it a few times in training to see how it works for you.

Finally, cooking beets reduces their nitrate contents. So it is best to consume raw beets or their juice.

This information is from my upcoming book to be published by Macmillan Publishers in Nov 2023. It discusses twenty superfoods, their nutrients, health benefits, recommended amounts and excess levels. It also covers how to select and store and who should avoid them.

The superfoods: Tomatoes, carrots, spinach, beetroot, coconut, capsicum (Shimla mirch), drumsticks, pineapples, papaya, amla (Indian gooseberry), jamun (Java plum), turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, flax seeds, aloe vera, green tea, asafoetida (hing), and sabja (sweet basil seeds).

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First published on: 17th January 2023
Image credit: Pixabay on Pexels


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