The best way to tune your engine for performance is to eat the right proportions of quality macronutrients – in particular fats and protein. But every so often, we come across a specific food or supplement that can reap significant performance benefits and might just be worth adding to your diet.
Recent research suggests that humble Beet Juice might just be one of these supplements for improve crossfit performance! Recent evidence shows that only 500ml of organic beetroot juice (which is naturally nitrate-rich) consumed 2.5 hours before an endurance cycling time trial, improves performance by almost 3%!
To put that in perspective, in the 21km row from the 2013 Crossfit Games, that’s would work out to a time over 2min quicker. That’s the difference between Jason Khalipa’s 1st place and 6th place! Or 5th place and 17th place!
The science behind it. If you want the scientific explanation, here goes. Beet Juice (or more specifically the nitrates in beet juice) does two things in the body:
1. Widens blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and allowing more blood flow to working muscles.
2. Increases the efficiency of working muscles. Oxygen is the most important limiting factor in endurance exercise, and with higher nitrates in the blood, significantly higher power output can be sustained for the same amount of oxygen uptake. More specifically, the energy ‘power plants’ within the muscles (the mitochondria) are able to operate more efficiently, producing more energy per unit of oxygen. Interestingly, the endurance kings of the Tour de France have been on Beet Juice for years looking for the slightest of advantages, and if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for you. Consider the most recent Crossfit Games. At least 3 events were endurance-heavy, including the Burden Run (~30mins), Naughty Nancy (~18 mins) and the 21km Row (~1hr 20 mins).
A 3% naturally derived advantage could have made all the difference for any number of athletes. My guess is that Beet Juice might well be on the menu for many top Crossfitters, if it isn’t already used to improve crossfit performance!
Personal notes If you’ve ever tried juicing beets, you’ll know that the taste might not exactly be described as delicious. Add some ginger or apple to make it more palatable. And wear gloves if you can – peeling and cutting raw beets will color your hands red for days! Make sure you experiment with how you feel after beet juice before using it on competition day. It goes without saying to never try anything for the first time on competition day. When you see your urine turn red a few hours later, that’s normal! Don’t be alarmed.
Notes: There is an important difference between inorganic nitrate (found in beetroot juice and other vegetables) and organic nitrate and nitrite. Organic nitrate and nitrite cause blood vessel dilation and can be very dangerous if consumed in large amounts. And don’t be confused by the inorganic vs. organic as these are chemistry terms rather than those associated with food labeling. The inorganic nitrate found in dietary sources such as beetroot has been show to be very healthy, with no toxicity noted.
1. Lansley KE et al. Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011, 43:1125-1131.
2. Larsen FJ et al. Dietary inorganic nitrate improves mitochondrial efficiency in humans. Cell Metab. 2011, 13:149-59. 3. Bailey SJ et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009, 107:1144-55.