There are few things that just by adding it, can improve performance and actually leave the body healthier than it was before. But that appears to be the case with beetroot, especially beetroot powder, which when taken before a workout, has been shown to boost stamina, performance, and efficiency, all without any ill effects. It does this by improving oxygen uptake by the muscles, so that you can go further, faster, and have more energy output with every breath, without perceiving that you're working harder.

The key ingredient in beetroot is dietary nitrates, which your body converts into nitric oxide that in turn helps carry oxygen more efficiently to the cells to unlock energy and make the work output easier. Think of it as adding a motor to your gear shift bike, which allows the oxygen to move more efficiently and muscle cells to perform at a higher level with less effort–while getting more distance from every pedal stroke. By making more oxygen available to your muscles, without breathing any harder, you're doing what athletes who dope or cheat have done for years (but you're doing it naturally and legally), just by adding a natural plant-based ingredient to your pre-workout ritual. Shoes, check. Water bottle, check. Beetroot scoop...  Check!

Beetroot works to unlock the energy in muscle cells and make working out easier

According to one study, when nitrates are added to the body before exercise, muscle mitochondria (the cells that fire away when you move, like miniature pistons) showed a better ratio of oxygen efficiency, so they could produce ATP more readily, which is the unit of energy burned when you move. The nitric oxide also helped to lower the overall oxygen needs of the cells, so your muscles are converting more energy, more efficiently, and using less air to do it.

When athletes reach their maximum oxygen consumption level (VO2 Max), it's an indication that they can't uptake any more oxygen while at work, so they begin to fatigue and slow down. Over time, they train to get to that point at a higher level of exertion, so by using less energy to create more output, you basically raise the ceiling on your ability to crush that run or bike up that hill, before feeling like you're maxing out or needing to slow own. Imagine that, when driving, your car was able to go from 0 to 60 in less time, using less fuel, and then continue to drive faster, farther, all with less gas required.

With the introduction of nitrates in beetroot, by reducing the oxygen cost during exercise, you use less oxygen as you produce more output, and feel as if your trotting along at an easy jog while you're actually sprinting, and your stamina allows you to keep up that speed for longer.

When athletes took beetroot for six days prior to exercise, it helped them push their limits higher–between 15 and 25 percent above what they perceived to be their max–compared to their performance without the beetroot, according to one study, while reducing oxygen requirement to the muscles by 20 percent. The authors concluded: "Dietary nitrate has profound effects on basal mitochondrial function. These findings may have implications for exercise physiology- and lifestyle-related disorders that involve dysfunctional mitochondria."

Beetroot Powder May Improve More than Just Exercise Performance

Beetroot is not just a source of nitrates, but also a healthy source of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, minerals, and vitamins. All this makes beets a great pre-workout snack, or drink, so whether you take it in a powdered form, a juice, or whole food, beets should be on the menu for anyone trying to improve performance, stamina, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

“Research has also indicated that the more oxygen you uptake during intense exercise, the more inflammation your body produces,” comments registered dietitian, Lauren Armstrong. “So if beetroot has the ability to lower oxygen needs, it could also play a role in decreasing post-exercise inflammation.”
Getting beetroot can be as simple as adding the powder to your morning smoothie, adds Armstrong. “The best part is that beetroot powder is versatile,” says Armstrong. “If you tend to have a bowl of oatmeal or a smoothie a few hours before working out, sprinkle it in!”


Beetroot has been shown to improve performance, stamina and heart health
Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to scientific studies, beets have been linked to a myriad of health benefits, from lowering blood pressure, to improving cardiovascular health, and even helping the body to fight cancer cell growth. It does so, according to a new study, by signaling to the oral bacteria in your saliva that is sensitive to nitrates that these super-molecules are present, which starts a cascade of health responses from the brain to the gut, that help the body convert nitrates to NO and get the whole system responding to the fact that you've just ingested this food, and to get ready for what's about to happen, from reducing inflammation to better oxygen uptake in the cells. Your mouth acts as an early clarion, signaling: Let's go!

Or as the study authors put it: "These nitrate-sensitive oral microbiome modules are proposed as potential prebiotic and probiotic targets to ameliorate age-induced impairments in cardiovascular and cognitive health."

For your best  results, take beetroot powder 1 to 3 hours before a workout

The study on athletes found that "The time to reach the peak plasma nitrate is between one and three hours after consumption of a single dose of nitrate," so that it gives the body time to prime the pumps. "Beetroot can have various effects on athletic performance through nitric oxide," since  "Nitric oxide is an intracellular and extracellular messenger for regulating certain cellular functions and causes vasodilation of blood vessels and increases blood flow."

If this all sounds like a Cialis ad, it's because the NO in beetroot, and the vasodilation of the blood vessels to your muscles and within the muscles themselves are similar to the effects that ED drugs have on the genitals. Blood flow increasing to the critical spot is one aspect helped by NO, through dilation of the vessels and lowering of inflammation, while the other is oxygen uptake, use, and efficiency.

"Nitric oxide seems to be effective in improving athletic performance by increasing oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients for better muscle fueling," the study concluded. "Beetroot is an important source of compounds such as ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phenolic acids, flavonoids, betaline, and highly active phenolics and has high antioxidant properties."

This is all to say that for nailing that next personal record or keeping up with the peloton that's full of guys half your age, "beetroot supplement provides an important source of dietary polyphenols and due to the many health benefits," according to the researchers. It's also a lot cheaper than an RX.

More From The Beet