The plight of beetroot was made popular by Manto not too long ago, but despite her claim that it may be a cure for AIDS the real benefits to eating this bright red taproot appear to lie elsewhere. Beetroot may infact be a little helper to both the general population and some athletes.
Why? Well let’s look at what is inside the burried vegetable. Firstly as a root vegetable it is a storage bunker of nutrients for the plant. 10% is carbohydrate, 2% protein, 0.2% fat and the rest is a lot of moisture. More interestingly it contains micronutrients and chemicals mixed in with the carbs and water and it is these little buggers who might make your heart pump a little easier or make you cycle a little harder.
Beetroot is a source of magnesium, potassium and Vitamiin C albeit in small amounts. It is however a very good source of folate which is important for many cellular functions as well as for pregnant women. Folate in conjunction with betaine is also valuable in lowering homocysteine levels which have been directly associated with heart disease and strokes. Betaine is, as the name might suggest, also present in beetroot.
The main point of this post is one other chemical one would find in beetroot, nitrates. Nitrates are beneficial to sufferers of high blood pressure and have notably been the focus of recent interest in sports nutrition. Nitrates are metabolised to Nitric Oxide (NO) amongst other reactive species. This NO is responsible for reducing vascular tone (thus reducing blood pressure), platelet aggregation (thus reducing artherosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries) and may assist some immune functions. Nitrate intake has been shown to reduce blood pressure even in healthy individuals and may act as quickly as within 30 minutes, maximum levels are achieved after about 1 hour. For athletes these benefits have recently been shown to assist performance in a couple ways. Both single dose and chronic intake of 3-15 days has improved exercise economy. Performance and exercise capacity may be improved particularly in athletes competing in short to medium length bouts of exercise lasting 4-30 minutes. There may also be some benefit to those training or competing at altitude.
All in all there is some promising research on the use of beetroot or nitrate rich foods for health as well as exercise gains. More work is needed in this area however for conclusions to be drawn and recommendations to be made. Obviously there is nothing wrong with encouraging an increased intake of a whole food source anyway. Side effects are minimal, the colour pigment may stain urine and stool so this should be kept in mind for any diagnostic tests this may interfere with. Beetroot is in season from January through October so in theory it is in good supply for most of the year. I always thought of beetroot as something that my Gran got out of a jar and stained our dinner plate with but its earthy flavour is quite robust and well suited to a variety of dishes, not just as the pickled variety. For athletic purposes the juice or concentrates are used currently. I am on the lookout for suitable brands to try out.
I will also post a recipe or two soon. First up will be a beetroot and goats cheese spelt risotto. Yes man.
*SEE AN UPDATED POST ON THIS TOPIC HERE*