Beet out Fatigue: Why Beets are Gaining Popularity with Athletes

pada smith/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
pada smith/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Breaking records, going just a little bit faster and beating out the competitors are all goals of novice and elite athletes alike. Everybody enjoys a little friendly competition, including me, but some athletes take it to the extreme by putting harmful chemicals into their bodies with the hope of performing slightly better and getting that extra win. This is not only illegal, but also extremely harmful.

Many athletes are realizing there’s a natural way to get this same performance-enhancing boost from a natural and healthful source — beets! Beetroots are a natural source of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, allowing increased blood flow throughout the body. This makes beets a great idea for people with high blood pressure as well as for endurance athletes.

Concentrated beets in the form of beetroot juice allows athletes to benefit from this increased blood flow, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to the working muscle cells more quickly. Nitric oxide also decreases the oxygen cost needed, resulting in a greater oxygen reserve for the muscle to use. With more oxygen reserves on hand, the athlete experiences extended endurance and intensity and shorter recovery times.

How much is enough: To reap these benefits, athletes need to consume about 2 cups of beetroot juice 2-3 hours prior to a workout and competition. Today, more companies have concentrated shots of beetroot juice on the market — a small, 4-ounce shot about 30 minutes before a workout will have you seeing results.

Not an athlete? Never fear! Beets are still a great root vegetable to incorporate into your diet due to their rich source of antioxidants, iron, vitamin C and fiber. I love roasting beets to bring out their natural sweetness. I add them to salads or include as a side to my main meal. It couldn’t be easier to do!

For a mess-free way to roast beets (without dyeing your hands red for a week!), wrap the whole beet — leafy greens cut off — in aluminum foil, place them on a baking sheet and roast in a 400-degree oven for 45-60 minutes, depending on the size, until the beets can be easily pierced with a sharp knife. Once the beets are cool enough to touch, simply take off the aluminum foil and wipe off the skins with a paper towel. Cut them up how you like and you’re ready to enjoy their taste and nutritional benefits!

Whether an athlete or not, with adequate nutrition, rest and hydration, beetroots may be the extra, natural boost to help you complete your first 5K, win that next volleyball match, or get a personal record at your next marathon.

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Kara Hoerr
Kara Hoerr, MS, RDN, CD, is a retail registered dietitian based in Madison, Wis. Read her blog, RD in the Midwest, and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.