Just Beet It
Nick Barringer MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)
If you are an avid gym goer you have probably heard of or tried one of the many popular “NO” products that are currently being pedaled. The “NO” stands for Nitric Oxide and most of the products contain the amino acid arginine and promise to give you “mind blowing pumps” or something to that effect.
In reality, these products are mostly hype and little substance and the “buzz” you do feel when taking them comes from the copious amounts of caffeine these products contain and not said “pump”-producing ingredients. The entire “pump” premise is based on the fact that nitric oxide is a vasodilator, meaning it dilates your blood vessels, causing more nutrient transporting blood to get to those hard working muscles.
Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, so the product tells you that:
More arginine = More Nitric Oxide = More Vasodilation. MORE!
Although it briefs well, the problem is no research has demonstrated that this occurs in the healthy adults when taking an arginine supplement. Some researchers back in 2009 demonstrated arginine, even at doses of 6 grams for 3 days, had no effect on nitric oxide production and performance in an athletic population. So save your money because a key vasodilator is actually growing under your feet rather than perched on the shelf of a local supplement shop.
Beets!!! Yes, those reddish looking bulbs that your mom may have had to make you eat in your salad growing up. Come to find out, those little red orbs are chock full of nitrates which eventually gets converted to nitric oxide in your body causing glorious vasodilation. Beets are actually so potent that 500 milliliters of beet root juice has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure in healthy volunteers.
Anybody out there with a high stress job who could use a natural and healthy way to lower blood pressure and potentially protect their health? I thought so.
Now for all my performance-only minded friends who are not as interested in “health” as they are in actually going further and faster; don’t worry, I got you covered as well. Another study demonstrated that 500 milliliters of beetroot juice reduces the oxygen cost of cycling by about 4%. So essentially ingesting beetroot juice made the individuals’ bodies more efficient.
But what about faster??? A study involving 9 club-level male cyclists showed that 500 milliliters of beet root just improved times by 2.8% and 2.7% in 4 and 16 kilometer time trials when compared to a placebo. To help put those numbers in perspective, the average time for the 16 kilometer time trial in the study was 28.6 minutes, a 2.7% improvement means you just put a 46 second gap on your nearest competitor. How is that for faster?
To prove this was not a fluke, in a more recent study 12 male cyclists were given 140 milliliters of concentrated beet root juice or a placebo and completed 60 minutes of submaximal cycling followed by a 10 kilometer time trial. As previously demonstrated, the beet root juice made the submaximal cycling more efficient as demonstrated by lower oxygen use and the time trial was 12 seconds faster and power output was significantly higher when the athletes ingested the beet root juice.
Take home points:
1. Save your money and don’t buy those expensive NO products.
2. Look at ways of adding beets into your diet such as with vinegar and cucumbers in a salad.
3. If you can’t stand the taste of beets but want the potential performance benefits just blend up the beets into a juice (or buy the juice) and add it your favorite smoothie or mix it in your soup. You can add 8 ounces to a morning smoothie and another 8 ounces to your post workout shake in order to get around the 500 milliliter dose used in the research.