Beetroot juice gives athletes an edge

beetrootWe’re all on the lookout for the next thing that will give us the edge in our performance. Whether it’s some new routine or training program, everyone keeps looking for a silver bullet. Researchers from the University of Western Australia, the Western Australian Institute of Sport and the Australian Institute of Sport have found nitrate-rich beetroot juice might enhance performance among top level athletes.

Dr Peter Peeling from UWA’s School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health at UWA was one of the scientists whose research looked at the influence beetroot supplements had on physiological and performance outcomes on six national-level male and five international-level female kayakers.

“We looked at the difference that the use of a commercially available 70ml beetroot shot made to the time-trial performance and paddling economy of the athletes involved,” Dr Peeling said.

In lab-based tests, the beetroot supplement had a small effect on the distance covered, but was effective in improving the task economy of the male kayakers.  A greater volume of beetroot juice (140ml) was used by the female participants during a field-based 500m kayaking time-trial.

The performance improvement in that group of athletes was 1.7% – the margin between gold and silver medals in the Men’s K1-1000m and the Women’s K1-500m races at the 2012 London Olympic Games was 0.3% and 1.0% respectively.

In other words, what seems like a modest improvement can be extremely significant at the elite level.

Dr Peeling said the nitrate in beetroot juice has been shown to improve “the efficiency of processes that occur in the mitochondria, which are the cell’s energy factory”.

As a result adenosine triphosphate, or ATP – the molecule known as a cell’s energy currency –  can be spared during muscular activity, resulting in a decreased oxygen cost for a given task. By finding a way of reducing the oxygen cost of a given activity, you might improve the ability to withstand the exercise intensity for a greater period of time, or you find a greater level of output for the original oxygen cost.

“Beetroot juice is also known to improve explosive power and activate fast-twitch muscle fibres, although current literature is yet to establish why,” Dr Peeling said.

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