Athletes are perpetually looking for an edge, something to give them a competitive advantage in their race, sports game, or competitive event. Performance-enhancing supplements of all types exist, from legal to illegal and everything in between.
According to a study out of the University of Western Australia, the new performance enhancer is something found in every home: the mild-mannered beetroot.
The study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, examined the effects of beetroot juice on professional athletes in two separate trials.
For the first trial, six national-level male athletes undertook lab-based testing. In addition to seven sets of 4-minute step testing, the athletes performed two 4-minute maximal effort performance trials. All of the athletes received a shot containing either 70ml of beetroot juice or a placebo 2 ½ hours prior to the testing.
The first trial found that the athletes covered the same distance with or without the beetroot juice shot. However, the average oxygen uptake (VO2) effects were significantly lower among the athletes who received the beetroot juice. Their exercise economy also visibly increased over the athletes who received the placebo.
For the second trial, five international-level female athletes completed two field-based 500-meter time trials. The time trials were conducted four days apart to ensure performance returned to baseline. The participants were given either 140ml of beetroot juice or the equivalent of placebo.
The second trial proved that the athletes completed the time trial 1.7% faster after receiving the beetroot injection. The higher dose of beetroot provided a more significant improvement in athletic performance than the smaller dose used in the first study.
An intriguing fact about this study: no special beetroot extract or formula was used. The beetroot juice used was a commercially available product—simply a high-nitrate beetroot juice found in supermarkets and sports nutrition stores.
The researchers believe the nitrates in the beetroot juice are responsible for the performance improvements. The nitrates improve the efficiency of the energy-producing mitochondria, which means less ATP energy is used during muscular contractions. The result: a lower oxygen cost (lower VO2) during the exertion. The lower the oxygen cost, the longer existing energy supplies can be used, meaning better endurance during physically demanding tests.
The lead researcher pointed out that beetroot juice shots could be a potentially effective performance-enhancing supplement, one with all-natural origins, that would be completely legal in professional competitions. By tailoring the dosage and load to athletes’ bodies and activity, it could significantly enhance performance.