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The scoop on beetroot.

Emma Stirling
Emma Stirling APD

Did you enjoy the Olympics? We certainly loved all the talk about healthy eating and fuelling performance. When elite athletes are looking for that microsecond advantage it’s no surprise to hear that tailored sports nutrition is part of today’s solution. One of the most interesting tweets I read (from an in-the-know sports dietitian) was about the Kenyan marathon runners drinking copious quantities of beetroot juice at their training camp. Yes deep red, beetroot juice. Let’s explore.

Nitrate know how Recent research on beetroot and beetroot juice shows that there is more to this familiar vegetable than adding colour to a salad or zing to a hamburger. Many healthy eating recommendations focus on future health protection from your veggies, whereas it appears beetroot has benefits that may be immediate. You can just tell by the vibrant pigments in beetroots that they are bursting with phytonutrients and other bioactives. One of the most talked about components in beetroots is nitrate with beetroot being one of the richest plant sources of nitrate at 250mg per 100g. Other vegetables with a high nitrate content include spinach, radishes, lettuce, celery and Chinese cabbage. Nitrates are converted by your body into another compound called nitric oxide. Research has identified that increased nitric oxide levels may help:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Enhance endothelial function or the elasticity in blood vessels
  • Reduce platelet aggregation or blood clotting
  • Moderate blood glucose levels
  • Improve lung function and on today’s topic;
  • Improve performance and endurance when exercising

Can’t be beet A study on beetroot juice published in the 2011 Journal of Applied Physiology explored whether it was the nitrate content of beetroots that provided the previously observed exercise benefits. Subjects drank 500mL beetroot juice for six days and were compared with a control group that drank a juice that looked and tasted the same, but was depleted of nitrates. The researchers found that the beetroot juice drinkers reduced the oxygen cost of walking, moderate-intensity running and severe-intensity running. In addition the measure of time to exhaustion was increased by 15% for the severe-intensity running group. In other words the bodies of the group that drank beetroot juice, were able to work more efficiently when exercising and could train harder and longer. So it sounds like those clever Kenyan’s are on to a good thing?

Just beet it The taste of beetroot juice is not for everyone, so experiment with your culinary creativity and try blending with apple and fresh mint or carrot, ginger and fresh lime. It’s also wise to wear rubber gloves, an apron and avoid chopping anywhere near your pale cream, stone bench tops. While athletes can easily burn off two large glasses of beetroot juice each day, recreational exercises like you and I need to watch the liquid kilojoules. More research is needed so for now I’m sticking to freshly grated beetroot in salad. I’ve even tried to slip it in at the start of the day in this Scoop recipe for Fennel Beetroot and Corella Breakfast Salad.

Fennel Beetroot and Corella Breakfast Salad

Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites and a healthy serve of what’s in flavour.