Does beet juice actually improve endurance performance?

August 21, 2020

We have all heard about the health benefits of beets for years.  Simply, the concentrated beet juice increases blood nitrates.  Many athletes have been experiencing improved athletic performances and reduce blood pressure for years using the products. 

I figured why not test out this theory of improved endurance and see if it really impacts performance.    Most of the hype started from the cycling performance study at the University of Exeter, in England. 

"A study was done at the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences, using beet juice. The study looked at eight male cyclists consuming half a liter (500ml) of beet juice (approx. 2 cups), containing nearly 700 mg of naturally occurring nitrate, for six days. The control group with the placebo drank 500 ml of black currant cordial containing very minimal nitrates for the same amount of time.  The overall results after placebo testing showed the athletes in the beet juice group were able to go 16% longer, thus being able to improve performance with the same power but less energy.   Also, athletes used about 3% less oxygen during the workout while taking the beet juice." Exeter July 1, 2011  

Additional studies:

1. "In another study, Australian researchers gave five professional female kayakers two 70 ml (2.4 ounces) shots of beet juice, each containing about 300 mg of nitrate, two hours before a test involving kayaking one-third of a mile. Compared with a placebo, the rowers who drank beet juice improved their performance by 1.7 percent." Washington Post


2. "After many such experiments, mainly in runners and cyclists, researchers have concluded that nitrate supplementation lowers the oxygen demand of exercise and improves performance in endurance sports. They find that beet juice is most effective when drank two to three hours before exercise, and, in general, that 300 to 500 milligrams (500 mg is a bit more than two cups) of inorganic nitrate is enough to provide a 1 to 3 percent improvement in performance — significant enough to give a serious athlete a competitive edge. Solid vegetables, although they’re not generally used in such studies, can be effective, too; beetroot and spinach contain about 250 mg of nitrate per 3.5 ounces of produce." Washington Post


Recently, I received another spam email ad about beet juice and finally decided to purchase one of the products that is being advertised quite heavily to the endurance racing space.  I planned on doing my own tests over several weeks with and without beet juice.    The product I have been using is called beetelite (black cherry flavor) - I am sure many of you might of heard of it as their marketing is everywhere.  There are plenty of beet juice products on the market and most advocate taking a serving from 30 minutes to up to 2-3 hours prior to the workout.   My testing would just be for cycling - 2 small scoops in 6 oz of water 30 minutes prior to the workout.  Surprisingly it tastes good!

From the outset,  I assumed that there was a significant placebo affect and my mind knew it was helping me.  I decided to test it over 4 weeks (with and without beet juice) especially with harder cycling efforts  - hill climb repeats (2x a week seated only hill repeat workout at 50 RPM's).   

Overall the results were quite surprising and it clearly improves performance from my experience. Like every other nutritional drink or food touting amazing benefits, I was quite skeptical but it clearly worked well.  I would assume results differ for each individual.    What I noticed clearly with recording heart rate and overall climbing pace is that my heart rate was lower and my climbing times were slightly faster by taking the beet juice.  The most important item: I was able to perform many more repeats and never experienced the fatigue factor that normally comes after the first set of climbs.    It was comfortable climbing just under lactic threshold and the HR stayed about 5-6 beats lower on average when compared to the days of not taking the beet juice.  

The downside with many of the products is the cost, they are a bit expensive.   The only other option would be to consume a significant amount of beets or spinach!  There are many statistical analysis online that you can check out to see the various results with athletes. 

I am a believer and suggest you give it a personal test!




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