This isn’t really a new discovery, but I thought it’d be interesting to share with you all the research I have found for natural performance boosters. It’s a little bizarre, but countless studies have shown that the humble beetroot can enhance athletic performance.
Say what? Beetroot?!
Beetroot naturally contains nitrate – a substance that boosts nitric oxide levels in the blood. Nitric oxide is vasodilator which helps to widen blood vessels – this allows greater blood flow to muscles during exercise. Because it’s such a potent vasodilator, beetroot can also be beneficial for people suffering from high blood pressure because arteries become more relaxed and the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood around the body (but we’ll get back to that later).
Studies have shown that beetroot can effectively boost performance by lowering the oxygen cost of maximal exercise – in other words, it enhances muscle efficiency during intense training. One cross-over study gave 9 competitive male cyclists either half a litre of beetroot juice or a placebo nitrate-free beetroot juice before a time trial. All cyclists improved their times in both 4km and 16.1km time trials by 2.75% on average.
Another study even went as far as taking muscle biopsies (they literally cut out a piece of muscle from people’s thighs) after volunteers were given inorganic nitrate* or placebo. Researchers found that the nitrate increased the capacity for ATP synthesis inside the mitochondria. The mitochondria is the ‘powerhouse’ of a cell and is critical for oxidizing fuels (eg glucose, fatty acids, amino acids from foods) and converting them to ATP (the chemical energy required for cellular functions). In other words, nitrates obtained naturally from food improves the efficiency of mitochondrial activity which can help you push out that last difficult rep in the gym or beat your best time on a run.
Lower Blood Pressure
A 2008 study showed that when volunteers drank 500ml of beetroot juice their systolic and diatsolic blood pressure dropped and continued to stay low for 24 hours. Even a day after drinking the juice, blood pressure stayed low! Imagine if you drank beetroot juice everyday or even consumed other vegeatbles that contained high nitrate levels; you could naturally lower high blood pressure and prevent the need for antihypertensive medication in future.**
Other Foods High in Nitrates
Even though beetroot juice has been used extensively in studies that prove it’s usefulness against heart disease and enhancing performamce, beetroot isn’t as high in nitrates as some other veggies!
Rocket (arugula) is nearly 5 times higher in nitrates than beetroot with 480mg per 100gm serve.
Other foods high in nitrates include:
- Silverbeet (or Swiss chard)
- Mesclun leaves (like those in a salad mix)
- Butter lettuce
- Coriander (cilantro)
I would recommend to eat more green leafy vegetables and whole beetroot (it’s better to choose wholefoods to maximize nutrition) to get your nitrate fix; aim for 2-3 serves per day. All foods listed above have MORE nitrates in them compared to beetroot (except beetroot juice which is the second highest in nitrates after rocket).
Practical Ways to Boost Nitrate intake
- Add some stewed rhubarb to breakfast in the morning; serve over the top of bircher muesli, stir through porridge or you could even make a breakfast crumble with apples and oats!
- Make a salad with rocket as the base and dress with homemade apple cider, honey & mustard dressing
- Steam silverbeet until just wilted and squeeze over some lemon juice just before serving
- Tear up a few basil leaves and serve with sliced tomatoes, goats cheese and balsamic dressing for a delicious light side dish (you could even add some roasted beetroot to boost the nitrate levels and give a tasty twist on the traditional Italian Caprese Salad)
- Slice beetroot thinly, sprinkle with salt and fresh thyme leaves and bake in the oven to make beetroot chips as a snack
You can also buy beetroot ‘shots’ at health food stores as a natural pre-workout boost. If you’ve tried beetroot or any of the suggestions above and noticed a difference, I’d love to hear about it! Join the conversation below 🙂
I hope you found this post useful and if anyone has any questions, please comment below or email me – firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a lovely week everyone!
Love Stace x
*Inorganic nitrate is found naturally in wholefoods
**If you have high blood pressure, do not take yourself off your blood pressure medication. If you are interested in naturally lowering blood pressure, speak to your doctor first and then make an appointment to see me or visit a natural healthcare practitioner.