These days, it seems like there is a constant influx of new athletic performance supplements hitting the market.
There are supplements to increase stamina or endurance for marathoners or distance runners, supplements for strength or muscle growth and to boost energy, nutritional supplements to help cover gaps or deficiencies in your diet, supplements to promote sleep, for immunity, digestion, brain function, skin or hair, and so on.
It can probably be reasonably argued that there’s a supplement for nearly every aspect of athletic performance, fitness, and general health.
Beet juice has been used as an endurance supplement for quite some time, with companies now even manufacturing performance supplements that use beet juice extract.
But what are the health benefits of beet juice? Is beet juice for runners, cyclists, and triathletes beneficial?
In this article, we will discuss the health benefits of beet juice and the benefits of beet juice for runners and endurance athletes.
We will cover:
- Beet Juice Nutrition
- 6 Health Benefits of Beet Juice
Let’s jump in!
Beet Juice Nutrition
Beet juice is the juice from the beetroot (beta vulgaris). Although beet juice for health and athletic performance typically comes from red beets or purple beets, there are many varieties and colors of beets.
According to the USDA, beet juice, like any fruit or vegetable juice, is essentially 100% carbohydrates. An 8-ounce glass of beet juice (240 mL) contains about 70 calories, all of which come from carbohydrates. There is about one gram of fiber and 16 grams of sugar.
Beets also provide a variety of vitamins, including immune-supportive vitamin C, the B vitamins folate, and vitamin B6. These vitamins are important for cellular health, DNA, metabolism, and the production of red blood cells.
In terms of minerals, beets are rich in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc.
Several of these essential minerals are especially important for athletes, such as calcium, which is necessary for bone health, and iron, which is necessary to help red blood cells carry oxygen in circulation.
Copper is an often overlooked nutrient since we only need very small amounts, but it plays key roles in synthesizing collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, and it helps maintain healthy bones, blood vessels, and immune function.
The deep red or purple color characteristic of most beets is due to the presence of potent antioxidants and polyphenols like betalains, carotenoids, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and nitrates.
The nitrates in beets are the compounds that are primarily responsible for the bulk of the health benefits of beet juice and the potential athletic performance benefits.
Nitrates (NO3) are nitrogenous (nitrogen-containing) compounds that contain one nitrogen atom bonded to three oxygen atoms.
The third oxygen atom in nitrates makes the molecule very stable or chemically inert because the nitrogen atom has all of the electrons in its outermost shell occupied in a bond with one of the oxygen atoms.
This is in contrast to nitrites (NO2), which have only two oxygen atoms, which makes them very reactive (which is why they are associated with negative health effects).
Nitrates found naturally in foods such as beet juice, spinach, and beet greens can be converted by the bacteria in the gut and mouth into nitric oxide, which plays a protective role on the lining of the digestive tract, prevents the growth of pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, and can help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic conditions.
6 Health Benefits of Beet Juice
There are several potential health benefits of beet juice, including the following:
#1: Beet Juice Provides Antioxidants
Beet juice is very high in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are health-promoting nutrients, such as vitamin C, which combat free radicals in the body, which are reactive oxygen species that can cause oxidative damage, premature cellular aging, and inflammation.
Evidence suggests that diets high in antioxidants can reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and other inflammatory conditions.
#2: Beet Juice May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Even more specifically, the betalains in beet, which are the water-soluble antioxidants that impart the deep red color, have been shown to confer chemopreventive properties against some types of cancer cells in that they can help inhibit, suppress, or reverse tumor development and progression.
#3: Beet Juice Can Support Cardiovascular Health and Reduce Blood Pressure
Studies show that dietary nitrates, obtained primarily from vegetables like beets and beet juice, can indeed improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.
The body also naturally produces nitric oxide. This molecule has several beneficial roles in the body, but one of the most notable is that it acts as a vasodilator, so it helps to open up your blood vessels, which promotes better circulation.
One of the main health benefits of beet juice is that it can reduce your blood pressure. Since beet juice acts as a vasodilator, it can lower your blood pressure because the blood doesn’t have to squeeze through such narrow passageways.
The wider, open, patent blood vessels give the blood more “room” to move through. Thus, the pressure exerted by the blood on a more patent artery is reduced.
Studies have shown that foods that are high in nitrates and nitrites, such as beet juice, beetroot, and beet greens, can reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure in just a few hours by approximately 4–10 mm/Hg.
Ultimately, it is this dilatory effect of nitric oxide on the blood vessels that is primarily responsible for the cardiovascular-protective effects of eating foods high in nitrates.
#4: Beet Juice Provides Electrolytes
Beets are a great source of potassium, a key electrolyte, which can help counteract high sodium levels and improve fluid levels and blood pressure.
#5: Beet Juice May Prevent Cognitive Decline
Because beet juice can dilate blood flow due to nitrates, it seems that beet juice may increase cerebral blood flow and help prevent dementia and cognitive decline.
#6: Beet Juice Can Improve Athletic Performance
Beetroot juice and beetroot extracts have been shown to confer exercise performance benefits, particularly when it comes to cardio or aerobic exercise, which is why beet juice supplements for runners and other endurance athletes are popular.
Since beets act as a vasodilator, drinking beet juice can help your muscles to get more oxygen through improved perfusion of the tiny capillaries in and surrounding the muscles.
Natural nitrates found in beet juice also seem to improve the function of the mitochondria, the cellular organelle that produces cellular energy (ATP) through aerobic metabolism.
The more efficient your mitochondria are at using oxygen to create ATP during exercise, the longer and easier your exercise performance may be.
For example, studies have found that ingesting beetroot before endurance exercise has been shown to reduce the oxygen cost of the workout, which means that at the same pace or workload, the subjects were working at a lower relative percentage of their VO2 Max.
In other words, the exercise was easier on the body after consuming beet juice extract.
Beet juice and beetroot athletic supplements have also been found to improve the oxygen cost associated with walking and running and increase the time to exhaustion.
A review of studies investigating the aerobic endurance benefits of beet juice found that beetroot juice supplements improve cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes by increasing efficiency.
This, in turn, improves performance at various race distances, increases time to exhaustion at submaximal intensities, and may improve the cardiorespiratory performance at both the anaerobic threshold intensity and maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max).
Additionally, beetroot juice may enhance repeated sprint performance (bouts of hard sprint intervals) by increasing cognitive function and reaction time.
One study found that beet juice helped attenuate the decline in reaction time and cognitive function that normally accompanies repeated max-effort sprints and impairs performance.
Researchers postulated that the nitrates in beets, which stimulate nitric oxide production, can boost brain function because blood vessel dilation in the brain increases cerebral blood flow.
So, how much beet juice do you need to drink to boost your exercise performance?
Although results may be individualized, most research conducted with athletes uses 70-500 ml of beetroot juice supplements, which is about two cups of beet juice.
Overall, there are many health benefits of beet juice, both for endurance athletes and everyday individuals, particularly those who have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular risk factors.
Speaking with your healthcare provider about supplementing with beet juice can be a great first step, and then consider adding beetroot juice or beet supplements, such as HumanN SuperBeets Heart Chews, into your health and wellness routine.
For more of our nutrition guides, check out our database here.