By now you’ve surely heard about the latest endurance power-fuel, beet juice. With a handful of studies to attest for it’s positive effects on endurance as well as some world class athletes adding it to their diets, the age of the beet is upon us. But if you dive into this trendy red vegetable a bit more, is it all that it is hyped up to be?
How Beet Juice Works
The theory behind the performance gains that have been documented from beet root juice is based around their inorganic nitrate content. When we consume beet juice, these nitrates are converted into nitrites via good bacteria that is naturally present in our saliva. This can then be used to make Nitric Oxide (NO) which is a very important signaling molecule that the human body needs to function properly. NO has been theorized to aid in endurance performance because it dilates blood vessels in skeletal muscles. By increasing the size of these vessels, more blood can flow to them and thus provide muscles with more oxygen.
Beyond the Trend
So if it’s nitrates we’re after, is beet juice really all that it is hyped up to be? From this perspective alone, there are a good amount of vegetables out there with significantly more nitrate content than beets. Take arugula for example, which has nearly twice as much nitrate. While this leafy green has never specifically been tested for its effects on athletic performance, our current understanding of nitrates suggest it would be better than beet juice.
Beets are extremely high in oxalate, a key component to kidney stones. A half cup of beet contains approximately 43 mg of oxalate, compared to arugula which only has about 0.71 mg. If you were to start your morning routine off with a glass of juice from either of these vegetables, your kidneys would surely thank you for choosing the latter.
Beet juice aids in performance according to current research. However, are there other vegetables that aid even more? Are there vegetables that are easier on the kidneys? Evidence suggests the answer to both of these questions is “yes”, but until specific performance-based research is conducted on these other nitrate-rich alternatives, we cannot say for sure.
So what can you do?
- Don’t rely on beet juice alone, and avoid consuming massive amounts for the sake of your kidneys.
- Experiment on your own with the other nitrate-rich vegetables listed in Table 1.
- Start incorporating more nitrate-rich vegetables into your daily routine, not just your pre-workout meal/drink.
- Drink/eat slowly. Remember, nitrates must be converted into nitrites before NO can be utilized by the body. Bacteria in the saliva are responsible for this change. If you’re juicing, swish the juice around in your mouth a few times before swallowing. If you’re eating, make sure to chew thoroughly.
- Avoid things like mouth wash or tooth paste immediately before or after eating/drinking nitrate-rich vegetables. These substances will kill the bacteria necessary for creating nitrite.
Lidder S1, Webb AJ. (2013) Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitratenitritenitric oxide pathway. Br J Clin Pharmacol. Mar;75(3):67796
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