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Beetroot juice benefits for running performance – Fact or fad?

Updated: 2 days ago

There is indeed some evidence that beetroot juice benefits running performance, but you have to weigh this up against beetroot juice’s side effects, especially given the fact that it is easy to take too much if you use some of the supplements that are commercially available. In this article, we take a look at the research into the benefits of beetroot juice for athletic performance. Remember, if you need help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.


Learn how beetroot juice might benefit your running.

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In this article:


The claims about beetroot juice benefits for runners

 

Beetroot is rich in nitrate (NO3-) compared to most other vegetables. Ingesting nitrate (in this case, beetroot juice or a supplement) increases the amount of nitric oxide (NO) in one’s blood. The amount of nitric oxide in one’s blood peaks typically two to three hours after the nitrate has been taken.

 

Nitric oxide, in turn,

  • makes one’s nerves fire better,

  • speeds up the conversion of glucose to energy,

  • and improves the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles because it widens the arteries and veins.

 

In practical terms, these effects would increase a runner’s speed, endurance, and recovery.



What does the research say about beetroot juice and running?

 

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, really.

 

Several systematic reviews (a summary of the findings of other studies on the subject) and meta-analyses (a statistical analysis of the combined results of several similar studies) have been done to attempt to answer the question whether beetroot juice increases running (or general endurance sports) performance.


One explanation for the difference in the reported results between research studies is that they used different dosages.

 

A team of researchers in Brazil analysed the results of 12 studies that conducted various randomised controlled trials (suggesting high-quality research) involving 185 people (some recreational athletes, some elite).

 

They found that:

  • Four of the six studies involving short-term dosage with beetroot juice reported improved performance in running and cycling.

  • Six of the eight studies that involved chronic dosage reported an improvement in performance.

  • Of the six studies involving elite athletes, five reported an increase in VO2 max (how well your body uses oxygen to turn glycogen into energy).

 

They pointed out that only 15% of the research subjects were women and that more research that targets women specifically is needed.

 

  • Single dose supplementation as well as multiday strategies (2 doses per day for several days running) produced positive results for training, performance, and recovery.

  • BUT it didn’t work for everyone, and the results varied a lot depending on the type of sport, the training level, of the athlete, etc.


What makes it so difficult to answer the question is the many variables that might influence the results and that no single study seems to have covered all the bases. These variables include:

  • Dosage

  • Single dose vs. acute/short-term dosage (2 days or fewer) vs. chronic dosage (3 days or more)

  • Recreational athletes vs. elite athletes

  • Women vs. men (with female subjects being severely underrepresented in studies)

  • The type of sport

  • Sprints and high-intensity intervals vs. longer distances.


One side effect of drinking too much beetroot juice is an upset stomach.
One side effect of drinking too much beetroot juice is an upset stomach.

Beetroot juice side effects

 

The Maastricht researchers found in their review that “[c]ompared to studies on the beneficial effects, the amount of data and literature on the negative effects of BRJ [beetroot juice] is rather limited, and should be increased in order to perform a balanced risk assessment.”

 

However, they do point out that “[d]rinking BRJ may easily increase nitrate intake above the acceptable daily intake, which is known to stimulate the endogenous formation of N-nitroso compounds (NOC’s), a class of compounds that is known to be carcinogenic [potentially causing cancer] and that may also induce several other adverse effects.”

 

The Maastricht study cautions that, until we have more data on long term side effects, it is better to be cautious with chronic use of BRJ to enhance sports performances.

 

The Australian Institute of Sports warns that large or concentrated doses of beetroot juice could upset your stomach. A harmless side effect that they point out is that it may temporarily colour your urine and stools pink.

 

If you have any chronic medical conditions or use medication, large doses of nitrate may impact those. It’s best to speak to your doctor if this applies to you.

 

👉 Main takeaways:

  • More is not better – taking too much nitrate can have bad side effects.

  • Don’t use it for longer than a few days at a time.



Should you use beetroot juice to enhance your running performance?

 

So, it seems that there is some evidence across a large body of research that beetroot juice could enhance your running performance. But taking too much may be bad for you.

 

Also, keep in mind that the results of those studies are based on averages, and nobody is perfectly average. Factors like how fit you are, the type of running you’re into, your metabolism, your sex, your weight, and especially the dosage could play a role in whether and to what extent beetroot juice would make you run faster and/or further.

 

Based on the research, my sense is that you could take it or leave it. If you do take it, be careful not to take too much (see below), and don’t do it for long periods of time.

If you take it, how much and when?

 

How much beetroot juice (nitrate) to take?

The nitrate dosages (per shot) used in most of the research varied from 350 mg to 500 mg, and this is the range that the Australian Institute of Sport recommends.


It might make sense to use a dosage towards the lower end of the range if your body weight is on the low side, and towards the higher end if you are heavy. 


The amount of nitrate in fresh beet varies a lot.
The amount of nitrate in fresh beet varies a lot.

The presence of nitrate in fresh beet varies wildly (anything from 214 mg to 3,556 mg per kilogram), so I wouldn’t recommend making your own beetroot juice for running performance – you’d be likely to under- or overshoot the target dosage.


Most of the research studies used Beet-It Shots (concentrated beetroot juice), which contains 400 mg of nitrate per shot. This falls within the recommended range of 350 mg to 500 mg.


This is also the only product I could find on Amazon that provides a useful dosage; many beetroot products don’t list the nitrate content, or they contain way too much – up to 6,000 mg per serving! And keep in mind that supplements are not regulated in most countries, so the listed amount may not be accurate.


Beet-It beetroot juice shots

 

⚠️ Whatever you buy, take care NOT to get a supplement containing nitrite, which is different from nitrate. You want the latter.

 

When to take your beetroot juice

Whether you decide to take a single dose several days running or multiple doses on a single day, make sure to take the last dose two to three hours before the starting gun. This will allow your body enough time to absorb it properly.


Thinking about the possible upset stomach side effect, it would be better to first try this out in training rather than straight away for a race.


It seems that either of the following dosage strategies might work:

  • Taking a single dose of beetroot juice (400 mg nitrate) as a once off on the day of competition.

  • Taking two doses per day for several days running (400 mg x 2, several hours apart).

 

💡 A final tip: The conversion process of beetroot juice nitrate into nitric oxide starts already in your saliva, so if you use antibacterial mouthwash shortly after taking your dose, this may limit any positive effects.


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Maryke Louw

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.




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