Beets are cool, and our moms somehow always knew that … After doing my research, I can honestly say, I should have listened.
In recent years beets have started to get the attention they deserve however. Their newfound prominence comes from high profile athletes touting their caliber; most notably David Weir attributes his four gold medal success at the 2012 Paralympic Games to drinking beet juice. “I immediately noticed a significant improvement in my performance” said Weir. Beet juice helps improve athletic performance via a number of mechanisms as we will see. Let’s dive further into the details and see how beets can improve your life.
THE HIGH ROAD
Before we get started there’s two ways to produce nitric oxide in our body, the first is the l-arginine pathway. This pathway is incredibly slow, like a long bombastic road that takes us through a windy corridor. Someday we will have giant blue-blockers on and be grandparents, but until then let’s look elsewhere. The nitrate pathway is an adjunct to the l-arginine pathway, but it is filled with sex appeal and ergogenic promise, needless to say this is the pathway we will choose.
Before we leave on our journey however, aren’t nitrates are bad? Maybe beet juice isn’t the ambrosia I’m making it out to be … Nitrates are … or was it nitrites?
Beet juice contains nitrates which are powerful inorganic molecules that stimulates the production of nitric oxide – the holy hand grenade so to speak. Yes nitrates are converted to nitrites in this pathway, but it is fundamentally nitrate when broken down in the stomach via hydrochloric acid. I assume this is an important difference. And as far as I know nitrates are not unhealthy or cancer causing.
Nitrites are scary because of nitrosamines which are attributed with carcinogenic effects, meaning they can potentially cause cancer. Nitrosamines are made when nitrites combine with digested proteins. The link between the nitrates/nitrites and cancer is convoluted however. Nitrites are not well understood and a clear link to cancer has not been established (nitrosamines and cancer are opaque). In fact it is now mandated that cured meats contain vitamin C & E, which negate the formation of nitrosamines.
So what gives? *Elaborate After prudent probing, it is likely that the hydrocarbons from propane and the charring of meat could be the cancer culprit; neither of which affect the nitrite situation.
THE BEET GOES ON …
Nitric oxide seems familiar to us because it is commonly used to lower blood pressure. This is done by a process called vasodilation. Vasodilation causes the relaxation of our blood vessels, and in turn the heart does not have to work as hard because our blood flows easily. For those dirty old men out there (you know who you are) … Doctors say you are not supposed to take viagra with nitric oxide because it could cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure – this is because both substances cause vasodilation. In fact nitric oxide might even work better than viagra for this purpose, I’m serious, there’s studies … Two shots of beet juice anyone?
Increased blood flow carries nutrients to the required area, this is fantastic for recovery and energy, the functions don’t just end there however. Nitric oxide enhances mitochondrial function, mitochondria are the powerhouses of our body, they are responsible for energy production. Therefore nitric oxide helps our mitochondria produce more energy with less oxygen! Sorcery to say the least, and although you won’t quite develop underwater breathing, you could improve your time in a long distance event by as much as 1-2%, which equates to minutes overall! Try taking a recommended two 70 ml shots of beet juice 2-3 hours before your race, that should be enough do the trick.
Aside from direct performance benefits, nitric oxide has been shown to play a role in preserving immunity. Studies have been done on nitric oxide’s impact on pathogenic bacteria with promising results. Nitric oxide can protect against intracellular pathogens and help maintain a healthy microbial environment. This makes me think of garlic, which is a potent nitric oxide stimulator. Garlic also contains the phytochemical allicin which is known as an antimicrobial agent, no wonder Dracula couldn’t stand a chance, this is powerful stuff!
Lastly nitric oxide is a free radical, which has a bad connotation. The Rebels in “Return of the Jedi” also had a bad reputation, they were seen as scum by the Empire. The Rebels had no choice but to reform by blowing up the Death Star, I like their style. Nitric oxide takes similar action, reshaping things by emulating an anti-oxidant. It uses its anti-oxidant capability to rapidly soak up free radicals in damaged tissues to save the day. Nitric oxide accomplishes this by rapidly jumping around from membrane to membrane, how about that for Jedi powers? This means nitric oxide can protect against cellular damage. And to take things further, 80% of nitric oxide is utilized specifically in the brain; this might make beet juice a requisite for those looking to restore brain health and function – concussions anyone?
• Two shots of 70 ml, for 140 ml total seemed to offer the most effective dosing, anything above this resulted in substantially diminished returns.
• Beetroot consumption peaks nitric oxide levels 2-3h after ingestion and slowly diminishes over 12h.
• Works best for events that are 5-30 minutes long; I didn’t make that up.
Inorganic nitrates; spinach, cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, collards, leeks, beets, celery
Made via digestion – Hydrochloric acid which is naturally produced in the stomach.
Supplements; NOx Boost by AOR
*Talk about the products and sell them more. All the trials added extra potassium and beetroot juice. Supercharge beetroot juice. Natural consistency and dosage changes with with environmental factors (soil, biodynamics, etc).
1 Wylie LJ, et al. “Beetroot Juice and Exercise; Pharmacodynamic and Dose-Response Relationships”. Journal of Applied Physiology. 115.3 (2013) : 325-36. Electronic