Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
Since 2009, beetroot juice has become all the rage as a nutritional supplement for athletes. David Weir scooped 4 gold medals at the 2012 London Paralympics, and openly proclaimed that beetroot juice was a key factor in helping his performances, and he is far from the only high level sportsman who’s made such statements.
It boosts exercise performance… duh. Ok, you probably want that unpacked a little bit.
Double-blind placebo-controlled random trials (the platinum standard in scientific studies) by the University of Exeter and others have shown BRJ supplementation to have a measurable positive effect on exercise performance.
The precise mechanisms are still not 100% clear, but it is theorized that it acts as a vasodilator – literally widening your blood vessels – which improves nutrient delivery & waste removal to tissues (think skeletal muscles)… which in turn reduces the muscles’ need for oxygen and effectively improving muscular efficiency.
Want some numbers? Of course you do. How about…
All that is to say that during submaximal exercise there is a reduced oxygen cost of exercise ( perhaps by as much as 10%) which enables the same absolute output while operating at a lower % of VO2max.
How Does It Work?
Nitrates (NO3) in food are converted to Nitrites (NO2) which are further reduced to Nitric Oxide (NO) in your blood. It is the higher bioavailability of Nitric Oxide in blood plasma that is key.
Blood plasma nitrite levels peak 2 – 3 hrs after oral ingestion; so you want to load up not less than 2 hours ahead of your race or training session. The studies show that you can effectively double your blood nitrite levels. Plasma concentration is still high after 6 hrs, but tails off after 8-12hrs. Re-dose accordingly.
There is also evidence to suggest that you can nitrate load over 3-4 days with a beneficial cumulative effect leading into an event.
You can eat cooked beets as well as guzzle beetroot juice. There are also sports supplements on the market now such as Beet It which packs x7 times the nitrate density of regular beetroot juice.
Beetroots are not the only rich source of nitrate, of course. Most dark leafy veggies such as spinach & chard are also very high in nitrates, however you will still need to eat a hell of a lot to get the same amount as used in the studies done, so beetroot, by virtue of its, er, juiceability and BRJ supplements becomes the easiest and most viable option.
The benefits diminish at the sharp end; back-of-the-packers can expect to see more benefits than elites.
It’s not just for endurance athletes – indeed, the studies suggest that it is probably most beneficial to fast twitch fibres and in races around 30 minutes – Typical 5km – 10km territory.
It possibly helps mental & decision making aspect.
There are plenty of general health benefits, especially lowering of blood pressure and the reduction of associated risks.
NO is also produced endogenously via oxidation of the L-Arginine amino acid. Supplementation of L-arginine has also been shown to raise blood NO levels and have the same effects.
All in all, jolly good stuff, and no downsides other than the pink piss…