Question: My neighbor’s college-aged son recently adopted beet juice as his postworkout drink. While I’m not sure what edge the juice gives him, it seems like a healthy option. Are you familiar with this recovery practice, and can you shed some light on it for me?
Answer: Beet juice has recently become more popular as a postworkout beverage, especially among elite athletes. The edge that athletes are hoping to achieve has to do with improving their stamina and, ultimately, their overall performance.
Enthusiasts point to evidence in recent studies (Muggeridge et al. 2014; Wylie et al. 2013) showing that supplementation with nitrate-rich beet juice reduced the oxygen cost (VO2) of submaximal cycling and running, and improved exercise capacity and performance. The key seems to lie in the nitrate that is naturally found in beets. During times of low oxygen availability and acidosis, such as during exercise, the body converts nitrate to nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to relax and widen; this, in turn, helps with blood flow. As a result of the increased blood flow, more oxygen gets to the muscles, allowing them to work at a higher level of intensity.
What I find most interesting about the studies is that natural beet juice, not a nitric oxide supplement, was used and credited for the results. While the findings suggest that competitive amateur athletes in team sports or activities such as cycling or CrossFit® may see a slight improvement in intense intermittent exercise performance by drinking beet juice as a postrecovery drink, nonelite athletes may not stand to gain much.
Ultimately, this information provides another reason to keep high nitrate-containing leafy green vegetables (beets, spinach, arugula, watercress, celery) as part of a daily diet. At the end of the day, we still don’t know all the benefits that leafy greens may provide, but evidence keeps pointing toward the positive.