All too often, the descriptive “superfood” seems more marketing than reality, but every now and then, a natural food proves exceptional in clinical settings.
Consider the common beet. Long valued as a healthy vegetable, the taproot portion of the beet plant, aka the beetroot, has become a sports-nutrition sensation among high-performing athletes and a natural alternative treatment to help those suffering from cardiovascular conditions.
How did beetroot earn its superfood reputation? Let’s look at the science.
Say Yes to NO
Beets have been a staple in the Western diet for centuries, and beetroot was used in the Middle Ages as a treatment for blood and digestive disorders. But it wasn’t until the last 15 years that scientists began investigating beetroot as a natural curative because of its abundance of nitrates and antioxidants.
In a meta-analysis of 16 trial studies published in The Journal of Nutrition, scientists found that beetroot juice supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, due in large part to the high content of dietary nitrate (NO3), which the body converts to biologically active nitrate (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO). “This study finds that a daily glass of beetroot juice can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension — even those whose high blood pressure was not controlled by drug treatment,” says Shannon Amoils, M.D., senior research adviser of the British Heart Foundation.
NO is a vasodilator, meaning it helps relax your vessels and increase blood flow. This leads to lowered blood pressure, yes, but it also means a more effective transport system for nutrients and oxygen to working muscles — which is heavenly news for athletes across the spectrum. Other studies have found that NO boosts memory, strengthens immunity, reduces inflammation, improves sleep quality and improves digestion — all beneficial for athletic people.
Athletes on the Beet
Beetroot’s high reputation among athletes is a result of evidence from both the laboratory and the playing field. Here are a few things the lab coats have recently uncovered:
Beetroot boosts stamina. According to a U.K. study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, healthy subjects using organic beetroot cycled 92 seconds longer during an intense session than the placebo group.
Beetroot improves anaerobic fitness. An Italian study appearing in the journal Nutrients found improvements in anaerobic threshold among seasoned swimmers.
Beetroot increases endurance during high-intensity interval training. A 2018 study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition shows that beetroot can help increase muscle endurance during HIIT protocols such as CrossFit, Orangetheory or a simple weight-training circuit.
Beetroot promotes recovery. Another study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that beetroot juice helped reduce soreness and muscle damage after training.
So try some beetroot powder before your next workout and see whether you can “beet” your personal best.
Written by Jim Schmaltz for Oxygen Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.