Research at Exeter University have shown that by drinking beetroot juice, athletes can increase their stamina and continue training and exercising for longer. Tests on cyclists in the study showed that the high nitrite levels in beetroot juice allowed their muscles and hearts to work more efficiently. In a report published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researcher Professor Andrew Jones said: “This is the first time we’ve studied the effects of beetroot juice, and the high nitrite levels found in it, on simulated competition.” It appears that once the nitrates get inside the body it works by widening the blood vessels, which speeds the oxygen flow to the muscles, including the brain, and therefore allows them make better use of the oxygen breathed in. Another reason that the nitrates in beetroot juice could help with stamina is that the nitrate turns into nitric oxide in the body, reducing how much oxygen is burned up by exercise.
In the Exeter study, nine men who cycle competitively, drank just under a pint of beetroot juice before they set off to compete in time trials over 2.5 miles and 10 miles. They then repeated the two routes on different days, but this time only drank nitrate free beetroot juice or a control of blackcurrant juice. The results showed that when the cyclists drank the beetroot juice containing nitrates, they were 11 seconds quicker over the shorter distance and 45 seconds quicker over the longer route.
The benefits of drinking beetroot juice do not end with athletes, as it is shown to help lower blood pressure and ward off dementia, and could therefore give pensioners or the old and frail an extra energy boost they need to complete everyday tasks, to make a trip to the shops, or get up the stairs. The study used shop-bought beetroot juice but freshly made juice would be even better. At the University of Bedfordshire, Professor John Brewer, an expert on sports science agrees saying, “These findings are potentially exciting for many people involved in sport and exercise, but will almost certainly require further more extensive studies before the exact benefits and mechanisms are understood.”
If you do start drinking beetroot juice, be prepared for an uncommon side effect that affects some people with a genetic preposition. A few people that eat raw beetroot or the leaves may find their urine turning a purple or red colour. The condition is known as ‘beeturia’ and can be an early sign of anaemia in some. Still, it is a small price to pay for increased stamina and the medical condition is harmless in itself.