When we think of foods for optimal physical performance, it's likely that whole grains, meats, eggs or even some supplements first come to mind. However, beets have multiple health benefits, such as lowering high blood pressure, reducing inflammation and providing plenty of essential vitamins and minerals.
Beets have become the secret ingredient of endurance athletes looking to improve their athletic performance. Research has shown that vegetables like beets with nitrates may increase blood flow and improve cardiorespiratory endurance efficiency. The nitrates break down into nitric oxide, increasing the function of the mitochondria -- which is known to power the energy of the cells. Endurance athletes seek these benefits so they can use oxygen more efficiently during their sport. This helps them become faster without getting exhausted as quickly.
If you participate in triathlons, marathons or other long-distance activities, beets may improve your ability to run, bike or swim for longer and can even earn you a new personal record. Beets can also benefit fitness enthusiasts who enjoy activities like HIIT training that require them to be in their best aerobic shape.
I added beets regularly to my diet when training for a few long-distance races and found that they helped me perform better. I felt more energized throughout the majority of my training and on the day of the races, I didn't get fatigued as quickly as I have in the past.
If you're ready to give beets a shot, below are some of the best ways to include them in your diet.
Drinking beet juice before physical activity is recommended for athletes to reap the benefits. It's best to drink at least two cups of juice between two to three hours before exercising since blood nitrate levels are most optimal then. You can make beet juice at home with a juicer or you can purchase a bottle of beet juice at your local supermarket or supplement store. If you decide to purchase a bottle from the store, make sure to measure out about 16 ounces (or two cups) before activity. Be sure to look at the list of ingredients to ensure that it has no added sugar.
If you're not a fan of beets' earthy taste, you can try one of my favorite ways to have them -- in a smoothie. Because beets are a root vegetable, normally you'd have to boil them to soften them up, but an easy shortcut is to buy them precooked or frozen. While training for the NYC Half Marathon last year, my go-to beet smoothie was inspired by the Can't Beet Me Smoothie by marathon runner and olympian Shalane Flanagan. Not only is it a nourishing way to have beets, it's also full of flavor from other fruits and almond butter. If this recipe isn't your cup of tea, you can get creative with your smoothie fusions as long as you have a serving of beets blended in.
Another way to get your serving of beets without having to buy the actual vegetable is by consuming it in powder form. Beetroot powder is dehydrated beetroot juice, so you'll receive the same benefits. Beetroot powder can be found at your local supplement store and usually comes in a container, similar to protein powder. You can mix it in water, smoothies, soups or use other methods that easily dissolve the powder. Since beetroot powder is a supplement, it's helpful to seek a brand that is third-party tested to make sure you're getting the actual product and not an item full of additives.
If you're a fan of beets and want to make sure you're getting enough fiber, you can also roast them. Roasted beets are an easy way to get a serving either as a side to a meal or part of a salad. One study even found that runners who ate a serving of 200 grams or 7 ounces of beets leading up to a 5K had a faster run time, especially during the last mile.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.