A lot has been written about beet juice, a.k.a. red beet, beetroot or golden beet juice. It’s generally considered to be a super food with several health benefits. It has even been called natural EPO, and EPO is the stuff that helped Lance Armstrong win 7 Tours de France.
But if beet juice is so great, then why isn’t it more prominent in pro-athletes’ diets?
Beet juice is the real thing; it’s one of the richest natural sources of antioxidants. Furthermore (together with spinach and rucola) it’s one of nature’s richest sources of nitrate. And nitrate is great for your blood management. Although actually, the nitrate itself doesn’t do the work. Bacteria in the mouth convert nitrate (NO3) to nitrite (NO2), after which the body converts it to NO (nitric oxyde).
NO lowers blood pressure, improves blood flow and helps create red blood cells. This helps transport oxygen to the muscles, reduces the oxygen usage during exercise and increases high-intensity exercise tolerance. In short, you run out of breath less and later. Scientific research has shown that the benefits of nitrate consumption in beet juice can result in up to 16% more endurance (measured in cycling time trials and endurance runs). This is why it has been called “Natural EPO”.
But it’s not for everyone…
You would think that especially professional athletes would be washing down their beet salads with beet juice all day, but they don’t really. So what’s going on here? Well, strangely enough, beet juice works for basically everybody, except top athletes. Scientific research into the effects of beet juice on elite athletes has shown that the benefits vary from a maximum 1 or 2% to absolutely nothing.
If an athlete is in “Olympic” shape, blood pressure, blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles are already optimized. Improvements of up to 16% can only be achieved through illegal substances like EPO, because beet juice just won’t work anymore. It turns out that the better trained the athletes are, the less benefits they will gain from beet juice.
Yep, try it. To start with it’s a vegetable juice; it’s healthy and full of antioxidants. And as long as you’re not too well-trained, it may give you some of that natural EPO effect.
The taste is debatable, as far as I’m concerned the raw juice is not an option; it tastes like dirt. But the probably most common version is fermented with lactic acid, and that tastes pretty good, just like some red fruit juice.
Beet juice and toothpaste
Remember how the bacteria in the mouth convert the nitrate in beet juice to nitrite, which starts the whole process that improves your blood management? Well, toothpaste, mouthwash or even chewing gum, can kill some or all of these bacteria in your saliva. And without these bacteria, the whole process never starts. Of course this doesn’t mean that you can’t still keep your mouth clean, but not too closely before, or after, consumption.
Oh, and if you drink beet juice and go to the bathroom an hour or so later, don’t be alarmed. It may look like you’re peeing or pooping blood, but don’t worry. Extract from red beets is often used as a food colorant, because of its concentrated, bright red color, and some of that color has just found its way out of your body.