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Hot Topics: Beetroot juice

Recently, beetroot juice, has been touted as the next best ergogenic aid for endurance athletes due to a number of positive pieces of research from Professor Andy Jones’ laboratory. It is believed that the performance benefits are not due to the unique flavour of the juice, but in fact, the nitrates found in beetroot. It wasn’t that long ago that nitrates were blamed for a range of health issues including cancer. The European Food Safety Authority now concludes that the benefits of eating vegetables and fruit out way the potential risks of consuming excess nitrates and in total contrast, nitrates may actually carry health benefits.

What do nitrates do?

Nitric Oxide (NO) acts as a signalling molecule for a range of processes within the human body. These include; regulating blood flow, control of muscle contraction and glucose uptake, and regulation of cellular respiration.

Where are nitrates found?

Our main dietary sources of nitrates are vegetables, in particular, beetroot, celery, lettuce, rocket, spinach, cabbage, celeriac, dill and carrot juice.

What are the benefits of supplementation?

The main benefit of nitrate supplementation appears to be a reduction in the energy cost of exercise. Therefore, an athlete is able to work at the same exercise intensity with a reduced level of effort. Endurance athletes are advised to take a dose of nitrates before training or competition to benefit performance. The application of nitrates in team sports or power sports has yet to be established.

What is the protocol for supplementation?

At the moment, research studies have shown benefits with doses of around 300 mg, which is the equivalent to 300 g of nitrate rich vegetables (E.g. rocket, spinach, bok choy, broccoli and beetroot). What isn’t clear is whether supplementing throughout the day or in a concentrated form (E.g. Beetroot juice) immediately before exercise is optimal for performance.

Initial research is promising, however further research is required to establish recommendations on timing, dosage and safety of long-term usage.