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Could Beetroot Help You Run a PB?

May 17, 2024 | Nutrition, Nutrition for Running, Running, Uncategorized

When it comes to racing, many of us are looking for those marginal gains to help us run a PB. Like ensuring we are fuelled properly, utilising a proper carb load, trying out the latest Super Shoes…but what about nitrate loading?

For this week’s episode of the Cook Eat Run podcast, I chatted with Sports Dietitian and super speedy runner Tom Hollis about why he takes Beetroot concentrate in the days leading up to his goal races and why it might be something worth trying to the everyday runner.

Listen to the Cook Eat Run Podcast Here

Why is beetroot beneficial for runners?

So it’s not about the beetroot exactly, but the nitrates that are found in beetroot and a few other vegetables like spinach and rocket, rainbow chard, lettuce etc in meaningful amounts. When you eat nitrates they are converted to nitrite in your mouth – it’s the oral microbiome that converts the nitrate to nitrite, and then the nitrite is converted to nitric oxide.

Nitric Oxide is a vasodilator, increasing the diameter of some blood vessels which can improve blood flow. Studies were actually started using beetroot to help treat high blood pressure!

Improved blood flow means more oxygen to muscles allowing you to work harder at a lower effort. It lowers the oxygen cost of exercise, improving running economy and making you slightly more efficient.

It is also thought to have other physiological benefits that we know less about although more research is being done on this topic.

Balinese beetroot curry Cook Eat Run

Balinese Beetroot Curry from Cook Eat Run – try it here

How could taking Beetroot improve your performance?

So there are three markers that are thought to define your running performance; VO2 Max (your maximum oxygen uptake), your lactate threshold (the point at which your lactate starts rising exponentially) and your running economy. It’s often been thought that there isn’t anything that can boost your running/exercise economy, however nitrates is potentially one.

And there has been a lot of research over the last 10-15 years into Nitrates and endurance performance (although it’s not just runners and cyclists using it anymore but sports teams including the NFL and major league baseball although for other reasons that we’ll get into later).

It’s kind of like the nutrition equivalent of super shoes.

According to Jonathan Cartwright at Beet It Sports, it varies from around about five to seven percent improvement in the time taken to reach exhaustion. So we are talking about marginal gains but across a marathon distance, they all add up!

Beetroot and Cacao Smoothie recipe for runners

Which runners could benefit from ‘nitrate loading’ and taking Beetroot?

For once it’s actually us mere mortals ( ie average runners) that benefit the most from beetroot/nitrates. Research suggests that non-elite runners get more benefit than elite runners (unlike super shoes)

This study found that beetroot juice had statistically positive associations with runner’s time trial performance in low and moderate fitness groups but not high fitness level group. This is quite possibly because fitter athletes already have better vascular control and naturally higher nitric oxide levels. Additionally, evidence shows that nitrate effect is strongest in hypoxia (oxygen depletion) which fitter athletes are less likely to experience across a range of intensities.

How and when to take beetroot/Nitrates for maximum performance benefits

In order to get the amount of nitrates that the evidence based research suggests you need for the dose to be effective, you would need to be eating a really large amount of beetroot, spinach or rocket, so beetroot concentrate is the easiest way to supplement.

The dose you are looking for is 300-400 milligrams of nitrate.

Beet It Sports do a range of beetroot shots containing 400mg (and they are the product that has been used in a lot of the running research studies) You can try it at Xmiles – use code THERUNNERBEANS to save (podcast listeners get an additional saving so make sure to listen to the podcast!)

There is some evidence that taking it chronically for 6 days prior to your goal race could have some additional benefits beyond just taking it on race morning/pre-race with studies showing that your muscles can act as a nitrate reservoir to store nitric oxide. According to the team at Beet It Sports, you can take it any time of the day. You’re basically sort of banking up the nitrate in the muscles, similar to how we carb load before a race.

However the biggest benefit comes from your pre-race dose of nitrates.

Pre-race it’s advised to take your dose of nitrates at least 90 mins before you run (although somewhere between 90 mins and 3 hours seems to work).

It’s also important to take them not straight after you’ve brushed your teeth or used mouthwash as the conversion of nitrate to nitrite requires your oral microbiome to get to work! Avoid mouthwash or chewing gum etc after too.

But don’t expect to feel the effects (like we do with caffeine or carbs) – although just because you don’t feel a boost, doesn’t mean it’s not happening! Stick to everything else you’re doing like taking on carbs, electrolytes and fluid. Beet It shots are just an extra bolt on that’s got a lot of research evidence behind it to help you.

Should you just take beetroot before race day?

There is evidence that shows that nitrates could be beneficial for shorter interval and high intensity work, however it has longer been associated with submaximal efforts. So for those marathon or half marathon training, it could be worth using nitrates before long runs or tempo workouts, and it also allows your body to get used to adding in a beetroot shot before race day.

Additionally, there is potential to benefit from it in training when it comes to the recovery side, as if your training session oxygen cost is lower, it’s likely to feel easier, recovery may be slightly improved and you’ll get a nice confidence boost.

Are there any negative side effects to nitrates?

No – aside from cost of the beetroot shots and discolouration to your bowel movements and urine!

What are the best Nitrates to use?

Beet It Sport are the industry leaders in Nitrates. Nitrates content vary in beetroot and Beet It Sports have worked to get standardise the amount of nitrate in each shot (unlike many other brands where nitrate content can be very different to the advertised amount).

Beet It Sports keep it clean with no other additives and are Informed Sport certified. These are the nitrate shots that are used in most of the research in nitrates that has been previously published and is trusted by sports teams and individuals like Eliud Kipchoge.

What about the Beet It Sports Beetroot & Cherry Mix?

So what Beet It Sports have done is we’ve mixed the two concentrates. Sour cherry and beetroot, they’re both known to be rich in antioxidants. There’s a lot of research that’s shown that antioxidants such as sour cherry can help lower muscle soreness or the symptoms of that after a run. And it does that by lowering the inflammation that you get after exercise.

Scientists advised us that the best way to take the cherry and beetroot shots is to take it in the days leading up to, and after your marathon. By just taking it post race, it’s kind of too late. If you can get the antioxidants in pre race then the body has it there to utilise when it needs.

Don’t like the idea of the Beetroot shots? Why not try the Beet It Sport crystals. They are great for those travelling for races/training and don’t want to fill your whole liquids bag with beetroot shots! Don’t forget to subscribe and listen to the podcast, and keep an ear out for a 10% discount code at Xmiles.

The Cook Eat Run podcast is sponsored by Xmiles.