Over the last few years, several studies have found that beetroot can enhance athletic performance, particularly for endurance runners and cyclists.
How does beetroot actually improve performance?
Beetroot contains particularly high levels of nitrates. Once processed by the body, these boost the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which improves VO2 and power output. In other words, you’ll need less oxygen to produce the same amount of energy, or will be able to run faster for longer using the same amount of oxygen.
A study at St Louis University found that runners were able to run significantly faster over a 5K distance when they had eaten baked beetroot, compared with when they had eaten other foods with a similar calorific content. And the interesting part is that it was the final kilometre that saw the most marked difference - runners were 5 per cent faster on average after eating beetroot!
A 2011 study found that 500ml beetroot juice improved cyclists’ performance by 2.7 per cent in a time trials, and they were also able to cycle further before total exhaustion. Another study showed performance when walking or running at varying intensity increased by a massive 15 per cent when participants consumed beetroot juice daily over 6 days. That could mean knocking up to 10 minutes off your 10K PB!
And, if you needed any more reasons to give beetroot a try, a 2015 study found that it reduces muscle soreness post-exercise. Double win!
Giving it a shot
Concentrated beetroot juice shots such as Beet It deliver a high nitrite content in a small and reasonably palatable form. The study showed that 1-2 shots of concentrated beetroot juice, or 200g cooked or raw beetroot, consumed 75-90 minutes before exercise is the optimal amount to enhance your performance. Make sure you do some tests with this to see how your tummy reacts though – you don’t want to spend half the race in the portaloos!
Ideally you should be knocking back beetroot shots daily for several days before a race to see a real difference. You may notice that your pee turns pink – don’t panic, it’s just the beetroot!
Be warned that the conversion from nitrates to nitrites happens in your saliva glands, so using mouthwash or chewing gum can prevent this reaction from taking place, thus rendering all your beetroot glugging pointless.
Colour on your plate
Beetroot shots are handy, particularly if you are not keen on the taste of beetroot and therefore need to hold your nose and chug it down. But if you enjoy the earthy taste of the purple vegetable, why not try some of our favourite beetroot recipes and get your nitrates in a variety of delicious forms? Eating 200g of beetroot is equivalent to drinking 500ml of beetroot juice, in terms of the nitrate content.
You can eat it raw; boil, steam or fry it, or you can use the vacuum-packed cooked beetroot that’s available in any supermarket. These beetroot packs are very practical to have in the fridge – you can whip up a tasty salad at very short notice.
Beetroot straight from the oven is a colourful addition to a tray of mixed roasted root vegetables. It’s a great accompaniment to a Sunday roast, or you can let it cool and chop it up to use in salads.
Choose very fresh beets from your local green grocer with leaves attached. Make sure they feel firm and not soft or wrinkled.
Chop off the leaves and scrub them clean (or peel if you prefer). Wrap them loosely in foil, place on a baking tray and pop them in the oven at 190 degrees C for 45 minutes to an hour, checking them every 20 minutes. If they seem dry, add a little water and rewrap the foil. When done they should be soft enough that a knife slides easily through the centre.
Roast beetroot salad with goat’s cheese, spinach and walnuts
This is great as a side salad or main dish, the contrasting flavours and textures working superbly together: it’s creamy, earthy, tangy and sweet. To make it a bit more filling you could serve it with quinoa, or just on its own with some crusty bread.
For the salad:
- 200g beetroot, roasted as above, cooled and sliced, or use precooked vacuum packed beetroot, chopped
- 150g baby spinach leaves, washed
- 150g soft goats cheese, crumbled
- 75g toasted walnuts
For the dressing:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Mix the dressing ingredients in a jam jar and shake well.
- Layer up the salad, putting the spinach leaves on a serving dish, then the beetroot, then the goats cheese, and finally scatter the walnuts on top.
- Drizzle the dressing over the salad just before serving.
Beetroot, apple and ginger juice
This juice is sweet and earthy with a fiery kick from the ginger. It’s a great one for boosting your immune system, too.
- 1 large raw beetroot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 crisp apple, cored and roughly chopped
- 2 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- Put all the ingredients into the blender add half a glass of cold water and blend well. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl (this may take a few minutes, just leave it to drip).
- Pour into a glass and enjoy!
Spiced beetroot and yoghurt dip
This Middle Eastern dip from Umpteenth Cook is such a gorgeous colour, and well as being packed with nitrates it’s incredibly tasty. It’s great as a dip with warm pitta, or served as part of a selection of dishes. It’s also good in a wrap with salad and avocado/feta/chicken, giving a pop of colour and a taste of delicious earthy goodness. You can use the vacuum packed cooked beetroot but the flavour is better if you cook them yourself.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 300g roasted beetroot, cooled and roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely sliced
- 300ml Greek yoghurt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- olive oil
- Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium high, add the mustard seeds and, when they start to pop, add the garlic and fry until golden. Add the coriander, fry for 30 seconds.
- Add the cooked, chopped beetroot and mix well to coat in the flavoured oil.
- Let it cool slightly and then whizz it in your food processor until fairly smooth.
- Add the lemon, salt and yoghurt, blitz to mix it all together. Check for seasoning: add more salt or lemon if it needs it.
- Serve with a sprinkle of nigella seeds on top.
Raw beetroot with feta and pear salad
This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that’s crunchy and refreshing, great as a starter or as one of a selection of salads.
- 4 beetroots, peeled and very thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks
- 3 ripe pears, sliced into segments
- 150g rocket or baby spinach leaves
- 200g feta, crumbled
- handful of mint leaves
- sunflower seeds
For the dressing
- Lemon juice and olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a jam jar and shake well. Assemble the ingredients for the salad except the mint and sunflower seeds. Pour over the dressing and toss to coat everything and sprinkle the mint and sunflower seeds on top.