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Faster Sprints and Better Decisions: Beetroot Juice Backed for Increased Sports Performance

Drinking high nitrate beetroot juice could improve both sprint performance and decision-making during prolonged intermittent exercise such as rugby and football, and could help players at the Rugby World Cup, say researchers.

The study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology​, adds further weight to the case for nitrate-rich beetroot juice as a performance booster for elite both elite and amateur sports players and athletes.

Led by Chris Thompson from the University of Exeter, the team reported that consumption of a nitrate-rich beetroot juice (Beet It Sport) resulted in improvement for both sprint performance (3.5%) and speed of making decisions (3%) without hindering decision accuracy.

“The improvement we found may seem small, but it's likely to provide a meaningful advantage to the athlete on the sports field. It could mean that team sport players are able to make those important decisions faster and cover more ground than their opponents in the seconds when it matters most,”​ said Thompson – who added that the study findings are an ‘exciting landmark’ in ongoing research in to the potential beneficial effects of nitrate-rich beetroot juice on sporting performance.

"These new results suggest that beetroot juice could improve both physical performance and decision-making during team sports such as rugby and football,”​ added senior author Professor Andrew Jones – who suggested that players at the current Rugby World Cup could gain competitive advantages through the use of beetroot juice. “In events like the Rugby World Cup, every second counts in those crucial moments, so this improvement could make all the difference.”​

Study details

The authors performed the double-blind randomised crossover stud in 16 male team sport players, all of whom received 140ml of Beet It Sport, high nitrate beetroot juice (BR) containing 400mg nitrate per shot, or a nitrate depleted placebo beetroot juice (PL) for seven days.

On day seven, the sportsmen, who were all members of rugby, hockey or football teams, completed an intermittent sprint test (IST) - which consisted of two 40 minute sessions of repeated two minute blocks.

This consisted of a six second all-out sprint, 100 seconds active recovery and 20 seconds of rest, on an exercise bike. At the same time, they were given cognitive tasks designed to test how accurately and how fast they made decisions.

Thompson and his colleagues found those who had consumed the nitrate-rich version saw an improvement in both sprint performance (3.5%) and speed of making decisions (3%) without hindering decision accuracy.

“Total work done during the sprints of the IST was greater in BR (123 ± 19 kJ) compared to PL (119 ± 17 kJ; P < 0.05),”​ wrote the team. “Reaction time of response to the cognitive tasks in the second half of the IST was improved in BR compared to PL (BR first half: 820 ± 96 vs. second half: 817 ± 86 ms; PL first half: 824 ± 114 vs. second half: 847 ± 118 ms; P < 0.05).”​

The team concluded that dietary nitrate enhances repeated sprint performance “and may attenuate the decline in cognitive function (and specifically reaction time) that may occur during prolonged intermittent exercise.”

Source: European Journal of Applied Physiology​

Volume 115, Issue 9, Pages 1825-1834, doi: 10.1007/s00421-015-3166-0​​ “

Dietary nitrate improves sprint performance and cognitive function during prolonged intermittent exercise”​ Author: Thompson C, et al​


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