A powder made from grinding dried beets may be the secret to better performance in activities such as distance running, cycling and … ahem … a certain other sweaty endeavor.
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Research shows that consuming beetroot powder or beet juice can boost physical performance and stamina by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery in your body. Basically, it’s blood doping via a root vegetable.
So, what kind of magic is the humble beet using? Let’s find out from registered dietitian Carly Sedlacek, RDN, LD.
What is beetroot powder?
Beets are a knobby root vegetable with a distinctive dark red coloring. It’s an easy-to-grow crop that’s been around for eons, which may explain why it pops up in so many recipes and cultural cuisines.
Beetroot powder is made from dehydrated beets that are ground down into tiny particles. The powder is a concentrated version of the vegetable. (One teaspoon of beetroot powder is considered the same as a whole beet!)
Many view beets as a “superfood” given their impressive nutritional resume, says Sedlacek. Beetroot powder is growing in popularity as a supplement that taps into those natural health benefits.
Beetroot powder can be mixed with water to make a juice or added to smoothies, sauces or even baked goods for a nutritional bump.
Beetroot powder as a performance enhancer
Understanding how beetroot powder can serve as a natural performance enhancer takes a little knowledge of biological science.
Let’s start with this fact: Beetroot powder is rich in nitrate, a compound made of nitrogen and oxygen. On its own, nitrate doesn’t do much for your body. But when your saliva converts it to nitrite and nitric oxide … well, good things happen.
“Nitric oxide relaxes and expands your blood vessels, which allows for increased blood flow and more oxygen delivered throughout your body,” explains Sedlacek. “In athletic terms, that can help you perform better for longer.”
There’s plenty of evidence showing how consuming beetroot powder can improve performance in endurance activities, too. For instance:
- Recreational athletes were able to ride exercise bikes longer at higher intensity levels after just six days of drinking beetroot juice. Researchers called the findings “remarkable.”
- Walking up steep hills became easier with less overall energy burned after participants took a beetroot supplement. Recovery time was faster, too.
- Kayakers on a national team improved time trial performances by an average of 1.7% after being given a beetroot supplement. The improvements at that level of competition were considered significant.
- Adolescents having obesity experienced improved exercise tolerance after drinking beetroot juice, which worked to extend the time spent doing physical activity.
There’s less conclusive research regarding whether beetroot powder can boost quick-burst activities such as sprinting or weightlifting. But a recent study of sprint cyclists indicates there may be some benefits in activities where the focus is on power and acceleration.
When to use beetroot powder
Timing is key if you’re planning to use beetroot powder to gain a competitive edge. The reason? It’s not exactly a fast-acting pre-workout supplement.
“Beetroot powder works best if taken about two to three hours before performance,” says Sedlacek. “It needs some time to get in your system. You’re not going to take it and see instant results.”
Plus, a big boost isn’t guaranteed: “Supplements affect everyone differently,” notes Sedlacek. “It might be something you need to experiment with a bit within the recommended amounts to take.”
Beetroot powder for sexual health?
Beetroot powder also may help enhance amorous physical activity for men and women.
Studies show that nitric oxide “is an essential mediator of erectile function.” Given that, many believe that beetroot powder can help alleviate erectile dysfunction (ED) by improving blood flow to the penis.
In addition, beetroot powder works to decrease high blood pressure — another common cause of ED.
High blood pressure also can reduce blood flow to the clitoris and vagina, lowering libido and making it more difficult to get aroused. In theory, beetroot powder may address those issues and improve the sexual experience.
It should be noted, though, that claims related to beetroot powder and sexual health are thin on scientific confirmation and heavy on anecdotal tales.
Other potential benefits of beetroot powder
The list of potential benefits offered by beetroot powder also includes:
- Fighting inflammation. Beets and beetroot powder contain betalains, an antioxidant and natural pigment with anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is linked to diseases such as heart disease, asthma and Type 2 diabetes.
- High-fiber content. Eating a diet high in fiber can lower your risk of chronic disease — and beetroot powder is packed with fiber.
- Better brain function. Increased blood flow to your brain can help with cognitive function.
- Potassium source. Surprise! A beet contains more potassium than a banana, an attribute that’s passed along in beetroot powder. Potassium can help lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
Risks of beetroot
If you’ve ever passed a kidney stone, you NEVER want to experience the feeling again. So, know this about beetroot powder: It’s high in oxalates, which can contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
“Beetroot powder can put you at risk of kidney stones, especially if you’ve had them previously,” cautions Sedlacek.
Also, be aware that your restroom output may look a bit different if you consume beetroot powder. The vibrant red coloring of the supplement may add a different tint to your urine and poop.
In general, too, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about adding a supplement to your routine if you’re taking medications or working through a health condition.
Beetroot powder and beetroot juice have gained in popularity as “functional foods” for athletic performance. The International Olympic Committee even recognized beet juice as a legitimate sports food.
“Beetroot is generally recognized as being safe to use,” states Sedlacek. “It’s worth trying if you’re looking for an edge, but don’t expect miracles. There’s some good research showing potential benefits — but as with anything, there are no guarantees.”