New evidence suggests fitter athletes need a bigger beet dose to see a boost.
It’s been more than six months since I’ve written anything about the mysterious endurance-boosting powers of beet juice, which, based on past history, means I’m long overdue to revisit the topic. And, on cue, there’s an interesting new study that merits a look.
Though nitrate-rich beet juice is one of the very few supplements or foods whose claimed performance benefits have proven to be fairly reliable and repeatable in the lab, there has been one big knock against it: It doesn’t seem to work in well-trained athletes. Back in 2015, a group of researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, led by Lex Verdijk, summed up the evidence in the Journal of Applied Physiology: “Recent data tend to suggest that the ergogenic properties of nitrate supplementation are restricted to the recreational athlete and not evident in the highly trained elite athlete.”
Now Verdijk and his colleagues have a new study, published in the journal Nutrients (with full text freely available), that revises that view, thanks to the use of a higher dose of beet juice.
The study involved 32 Dutch soccer players who played competitively but not professionally. They drank either beet juice or an indistinguishable placebo (still beet juice, but with the nitrate stripped out of it) for six days. All athletes completed the protocol twice, once with beet juice and once with placebo, in randomized order with a washout period in between.
The daily dose was two concentrated beet shots containing a total of about 800 milligrams of nitrate. This is much more than the typical use of beet juice for only a day or two leading up to competition.
The performance test was a standard intermittent running test called the Yo-Yo IR1—basically a beep test involving a series of 20-meter sprints at progressively faster paces. The average distance covered in the test was 3.4 percent greater with beet juice than with placebo. Despite covering more distance, the subjects’ average heart rate was also lower (172 vs. 175 beats per minute) when they’d had the beet shots.
So all this is pretty good news for the well-trained athletes who’ve been pounding beet juice for the last few years. Do the results extend to truly elite athletes, and particularly to elite endurance athletes? Amateur soccer players are certainly fit, but they’re not Eliud Kipchoge.
For now, we don’t have the answer to that. But, for what it’s worth, one of the tidbits I’ve picked up in following Nike’s upcoming sub-two-hour marathon attempt is that Kipchoge has, in fact, been a beet juice devotee for at least the past few years. Something has clearly been working well for him—maybe it’s the beets.