Beetroot, also known as beet, has become a popular superfood in recent years. Some people claim that beetroot can provide an energy boost and improve exercise performance. But what does the science say? Here we’ll explore whether beetroot truly gives you energy.
The Nutrients in Beetroot
First, let’s look at why beetroot is considered a nutritional powerhouse. Beets are low in calories but packed with essential vitamins, minerals and plant compounds. Some of the top nutrients found in beetroot include:
- Vitamin C: An antioxidant that supports immune function.
- Folate: Important for cell growth and DNA production.
- Manganese: A mineral that aids metabolism and bone health.
- Potassium: Helps control nerve function and blood pressure.
- Nitrates: Compounds that may improve blood flow and oxygen delivery.
Beetroot’s vibrant color comes from pigments called betalains, which act as antioxidants in the body. So beetroot provides a range of nutrients that can help boost overall health.
How Could Beetroot Provide Energy?
There are a few ways that the nutrients in beetroot may help increase energy levels:
1. Dietary nitrates
When beetroot is consumed, it gets converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a molecule that dilates blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to tissues.
Some studies have shown that dietary nitrates from beetroot juice can enhance physical performance. One analysis found beetroot juice helped increase power output and running velocity during 5K and 10K races (1).
The performance benefits are likely due to more efficient oxygen utilization allowing muscles to work at higher intensities.
Beetroot contains around 10 grams of carbohydrate per cooked cup (2). While not high in carbs like some other vegetables, the carbs in beetroot do provide an energy source for the body.
Carbs are broken down into glucose during digestion, which enters the bloodstream. Glucose is vital for fueling the brain, muscles and other cells.
Eating beetroot or drinking beetroot juice can help replenish carb stores after exercise. This may promote post-workout energy levels.
Potassium is a key electrolyte that beetroot provides in high amounts. Per cup cooked, beets contain over 500 mg potassium (2).
Getting enough potassium is crucial before physical activity. Potassium helps muscles contract properly and reduces cramping. It also supports nerve impulses for muscle function (3).
Replenishing potassium stores is important for athletes training at high intensities or durations. The potassium in beetroot can help optimize performance.
Studies on Beetroot and Exercise
Controlled studies provide more insights into how beetroot affects exercise ability and performance.
Cycling Time Trials
In a study of 27 cyclists, drinking 17 ounces of beetroot juice 2.5 hours before a cycling time trial improved performance by 2.8% (4).
The cyclists were able to cycle an average of 41 seconds faster over the 2.5 mile (4 km) course compared to a placebo drink.
High-Intensity Interval Training
Consuming beetroot juice for 6 days improved performance during high-intensity interval training in one study (5).
8 participants did 2 four-minute work intervals on a treadmill, first without beetroot juice and then with. After beetroot juice, the men were able to run for an average of 13 seconds longer per interval.
Drinking beetroot juice immediately after resistance exercise has been found to speed up recovery. In one study, the juice was able to reduce muscle soreness 24 hours after exercise (6).
Researchers think this is due to the anti-inflammatory effects of betalains as well as the ability of dietary nitrates to enhance blood flow.
How Much Beetroot is Needed?
Many studies showing benefits of beetroot juice used around 2 cups (500 ml) as a single dose. The nitrate content seems to matter most when it comes to energy and performance.
Here’s an overview of the nitrate content of beetroot juice (7):
|1 cup (250 ml)||~300 mg|
|2 cups (500 ml)||~600 mg|
|3 cups (750 ml)||~900 mg|
For pre-exercise energy and performance, aim for at least 300-600 mg of nitrates from beetroot juice. This is equivalent to 1-2 cups.
Consuming whole beetroot will provide nitrates as well, but with slightly lower bioavailability. Just make sure to track servings since juicing concentrates the vegetable.
You’ll get the biggest bang from your beetroot by timing consumption strategically:
- 2–3 hours before exercise: Allows enough time for dietary nitrates to convert into nitric oxide.
- Immediately post-exercise: Provides nitrates during the short time period when they may enhance recovery.
If you take beetroot daily for overall health, any time of day is fine. But optimize around your training schedule to get the best results.
Downsides of Beet Juice
While beetroot juice has some impressive benefits, there are a few downsides to consider:
- It’s high in sugar, containing around 10 grams per cup.
- The nitrates may cause unwanted side effects like headaches, nausea and stomach pain in some people.
- Juiced beets lack the gut-healthy fiber found in whole vegetables.
- Juicing removes most of the vitamin C content.
For these reasons, it may be best to consume beetroot and other nitrate-rich vegetables like spinach in whole food form. Supplementing occasionally with juice could provide strategically-timed nitrate doses.
Research shows that dietary nitrates from beetroot juice can boost energy levels and exercise performance in many forms of physical activity. Consuming 1-2 cups of beet juice 2-3 hours before exercise is ideal for maximizing the benefits.
While convenient, beet juice has some drawbacks when compared to whole beets. Eating nitrate-rich whole foods daily appears best for overall health.
Strategically supplementing with beetroot juice can provide an energy boost when you need it most — right before hitting the gym or competing in a race.