Beetroot Juice: Can It Really Enhance Athletic Performance?

Craving a natural edge in your next race? Look no further than the fridge. Beet juice, once relegated to salads, is gaining heat as a performance booster for athletes.

Inside Tracker icon
By Staff Writer
Caitlin Snethlage
Edited by Caitlin Snethlage

Published May 12, 2024.

A glass of beetroot juice next to a sliced beet.

In this article

How does beetroot juice impact performance?

Do beets help mental performance?

Does beet juice benefit all athletes?

How to optimize your athletic potential

Show More

Athletes constantly seek ways to enhance their performance. Beetroot juice, rich in nitrates, has emerged as a potential solution. But does it truly translate to better results? Could it be hype, or is there a scientific basis for its claims?

We'll separate the hype from the complex data. By dissecting the research, we'll see if it truly lives up to its reputation and explore how it might impact your overall fitness, conditioning, and stamina.



Key takeaways

  • Beetroot's nitrates convert to nitric oxide, relaxing blood vessels and enhancing oxygen delivery for efficient exercise.
  • It might be more effective for high-intensity bursts (sprints) than sustained endurance activities.
  • For performance benefits, aim for 5–9 mmol nitrate daily, 2–3 hours before exercise.
  • Expect harmless red urine or stool. Avoid drinking the juice if you have kidney issues or experience digestive discomfort.

How does beetroot juice impact performance?

Beets are a source of dietary nitrate, a compound not commonly found in high amounts in dark, leafy greens. [1] Bacteria in your mouth transform it into nitrites during digestion. In your system—mainly when exercising—they can further convert to nitric oxide (NO). [2]

This NO plays a crucial role in vasodilation, which is the widening of blood vessels. Improved flow due to NO can enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles, potentially benefitting performance [3].

Here's where things get interesting for athletes: while the body produces NO, factors such as diet, workout, and sleep can influence its fabrication. By consuming beets, they can provide their bodies with readily available nitrates, boosting NO levels beyond baseline production.

Benefits of NO for athletes

  • Regulated blood flow: NO can boost endurance. It does this by relaxing blood vessels while improving oxygen delivery to muscles. This helps the body use oxygen more efficiently, reducing fatigue and helping you sustain activity during longer workouts.
  • Hypertension prevention: Beyond previously mentioned stamina, the vasodilating effect also maintains healthy blood pressure, particularly at rest. This reduces the workload on your heart, freeing up energy that you can direct towards exercise performance.
  • Improve immunity: NO has the potential to play a broader role in workout recovery. Higher levels may enhance phagocyte potency, assisting white blood cells in fighting infections. It can also regulate inflammation, resulting in faster recuperation from intense training.
  • Improved intensiveness: Stronger and more efficient contractions generate extra force. This means athletes can have explosive movements, elevated jumps, and powerful throws.
  • Electrolyte balance: NO controls the minerals glucose and calcium, which are involved in maintaining electrolyte stability. This is crucial for proper nerve and muscle function. An imbalance can lead to exhaustion, cramps, and decreased fitness. [1] 

Note: Nitrates are the primary driver of beetroot juice's athletic benefits. But it also contains other beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants, polyphenols, resveratrol, and quercetin.



Do beets help mental performance?

Focus is essential in sports, alongside physical fitness. High cognitive function helps you think clearly under pressure, react quickly, and stay focused for flawless execution.

Researchers examined if beetroot juice enhances mental acuity in athletes. Sixteen male team sport players underwent testing after drinking beet juice for seven days. [6] While they didn't improve accuracy, they had increased sprint performance and decision-making speed.

InsideTracker's Ultimate Plan offers a blood analysis to assess baseline levels of various factors related to beet juice consumption. These include vitamin B12 and folate, which can influence how efficiently the body converts dietary nitrates to nitric oxide.



Does beet juice benefit all athletes?

Beet juice shows promise for endurance, but we need more research for other types of workout and fitness levels. Here's why:

  • Energy source: Different disciplines rely on varied fuel sources. Studies suggest it could be most helpful for improving stamina via marathons or cycling. [3] The slow-twitch muscle fibers used in these routines can benefit from the nitrates in beet juice.
  • Explosive exercise: The impact on sports with quick bursts of power, like weightlifting or sprinting, is less clear. These activities use fast-twitch muscle fibers, which might respond differently to nitrates.
  • Overall fitness: Seasoned athletes may already have efficient nitric oxide production. So, they might see less improvement compared to less-trained individuals. [4]



» Optimize your health by making these healthy lifestyle choices

How to optimize your athletic potential

Conquering your next feat requires months of dedicated training. But on that day, how can you squeeze every last drop of potential out of your body? Here are two ways:

Dosage

Research suggests that increased beetroot juice intake might lead to higher blood nitrite levels. But, the performance benefits don't necessarily enhance proportionally. [1] The optimal daily dose is around 8.4 mmol of nitrate, but between 5-9 mmol is also effective.

Timing

  • Long-Term Boost (2-6 days, up to 15): Consistent consumption in the weeks leading up to your event helps you build up and optimize nitric oxide, providing sustained improvements throughout your competition.
  • Acute Effects (2-3 hours before): Drinking beet juice closer to your activity provides a more immediate nitric oxide amplification, ideal for short bursts of intense movements.

Tip: If you don’t own a juicer or are always on the go, many pre-packaged beetroot products are available on the market.

A recipe for beetroot juice.


» Fact or fiction? Discover the science behind cleansing and detox diets

Beet juice may nauseate you

Beets contain a compound called betaine, which can trigger digestive upsets, such as nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. [7] Plus, a high nitrite content in the body because of increased intake may cause dizziness.

Here are some tips to prevent nausea:

  • Start slow: If you're new to beetroot juice, begin with a diluted version. Mix it with water or another fruit or vegetable while gradually adding more concentration.
  • Try a small serving: Manufacturers often offer concentrated "shots" in 70ml/2.4 oz servings. They are convenient for on-the-go drinking and can be easier to swallow, especially if you don't like the flavor.
  • Drink after a meal: Food in your stomach can help buffer the effects of the nitrates and betaine.
  • Consider timing: Avoid having it right before exercise, as it might worsen nausea. Aim for 2–3 hours pre-workout, giving you enough time to absorb it.

Not a fan of juice? No problem. One study on a group of runners suggests that eating them whole can be as effective as juice in boosting performance. [8]

» Struggling to stay hydrated? Learn about nature's powerful sports drink

What to know before adding beets to your diet

  • Beet juice contains a pigment called betalain, which can turn your urine and stool a harmless shade of pink or red. This is especially true for folks with iron deficiencies. [5] But it's a natural consequence and nothing to worry about.
  • People with kidney problems should avoid beetroot juice. Beets contain oxalates, which can concentrate in body fluids and crystallize in the kidneys. 
  • Ultimately, experts say nitrate supplementation from vegetables is unlikely harmful, so drink up. [3]



» Having these symptoms means you should skip your workout today

Beet your best: Work smarter, not harder

While beetroot juice has gained popularity among athletes for its potential performance benefits, the impact can be individual. Some see significant gains in endurance or power, but others have less of an effect.

This variability is because tracking basic metrics like speed or distance paints only a part of the picture. Factors like sleep and stress can significantly influence your execution, making the results subjective.

InsideTracker connects with wearable devices—Oura ring, Garmin, FitBit, Apple Watch—that monitor sleep. You can import your data like duration, stages into the platform to see how it might be impacting your athleticism.

You also get science-backed recommendations to alter your diet, training schedule, or recovery strategies based on your goals.

Disclaimer: InsideTracker doesn't diagnose or treat medical conditions. Consult your physician if you have any health concerns.



References 

[1] L. J. Wylie et al., “Beetroot juice and exercise: pharmacodynamic and dose-response relationships,” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 115, no. 3, pp. 325–336, Aug. 2013, doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00372.2013. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23640589/

[2] R. S. Richardson, E. A. Noyszewski, K. Kendrick, J. S. Leigh, and P. D. Wagner, “Myoglobin O2 desaturation during exercise. Evidence of limited O2 transport.,” ˜the œJournal of Clinical Investigation/˜the œJournal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 96, no. 4, pp. 1916–1926, Oct. 1995, doi: 10.1172/jci118237. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7560083/

[3] A. M. Jones, “Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance,” Sports Medicine, vol. 44, no. S1, pp. 35–45, May 2014, doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0149-y. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24791915/

[4] J. J. Poveda et al., “Contribution of nitric oxide to exercise‐induced changes in healthy volunteers: effects of acute exercise and long‐term physical training,” European Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 27, no. 11, pp. 967–971, Nov. 1997, doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2362.1997.2220763.x. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9395795/

[5] A. R. Watts, M. S. Lennard, S. L. Mason, G. T. Tucker, and H. F. Woods, “Beeturia and the biological fate of beetroot pigments,” Oct. 23, 2019. https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/8148871/Beeturia_and_the_biological_fate_of_beetroot_pigments.Available: https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/8148871/Beeturia_and_the_biological_fate_of_beetroot_pigments

[6] C. Thompson et al., “Dietary nitrate improves sprint performance and cognitive function during prolonged intermittent exercise,” European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 115, no. 9, pp. 1825–1834, Apr. 2015, doi: 10.1007/s00421-015-3166-0. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25846114/

[7] Bloomer, R. J., Farney, T. M., Trepanowski, J. F., McCarthy, C. G., & Canale, R. E. (2011). "Effect of betaine supplementation on plasma nitrate/nitrite in exercise-trained men." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition8, 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-8-5 Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21414230/

[8] M. Murphy, K. Eliot, R. M. Heuertz, and E. P. Weiss, “Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 112, no. 4, pp. 548–552, Apr. 2012, doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2011.12.002. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22709704/