Can Beet Juice Really Boost Your Physical Fitness?

We’re well aware that beets are part of a nutritious diet, but beet root juice touts one of the biggest health halos among trendy superfoods today. The drink has formed a cult following of folks who believe it will improve their athletic performance, fight inflammation, and provide extra energy when working out. How much of beet juice’s superfood status is actual science and how much can be filed as just another form of overhyped snake oil? We consulted Kelli McGrane, RD, a nutritionist for the food tracking app Lose It!, for the real-deal health benefits of beetroot juice.

Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

“Beet root juice is a rich source of several essential minerals, including iron, folate, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B6,” says McGrane. It’s also a solid source of vitamin C, which helps boost your immune system and defend your cells against damage from free radicals. Vitamin C also supports collagen production and helps your body absorb iron.

Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Part of what makes beetroot juice so nutritious is its high amount of water-soluble compounds called betalains. “These are what’s responsible for beet root’s red color,” explains McGrane. “But in addition to being a pigment, betalains have been found to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.” One study published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition showed that betalaines actually have chemo-preventive abilities against some cancer cell lines, thanks to their antioxidant characteristics and ability to destroy unstable cells in the body.

Improved Physical Fitness

According to McGrane, this has some legitimacy. “Due to its concentration of nitrates and betalains, drinking beetroot juice has been linked with improving athletic performance and reducing muscle fatigue by helping to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles.” A 2019 study found that cyclists who consumed beet juice for one week showed improved performance—and actually finished a 10k course 1.6 percent faster in both low- and high-altitude conditions—compared to those who went without the beet juice. The researchers credit their improved physical fitness to the high levels of nitrates in beet juice. This gets converted into nitric oxide in the body, which improves circulation, dilates and relaxes blood vessels, and increases oxygen in the blood.

Reduced Blood Pressure

One study published in the journal Hypertension showed that those who drank beet juice—versus those who drank water—saw a drop in blood pressure and less blood clotting after a three hour period. Another study showed that those who drank a 16-ounce glass of beet juice actually lowered their systolic blood pressure by an average of four to five points. “This is due to beet juice’s ability to improve blood flow, which may help lower blood pressure levels,” explains McGrane. Research published in the journal Circulation also found a connection between beet juice and a 13 percent increase in muscle power in those who had experienced heart failure—again, thanks to its high amount of nitrates.

Potassium

Beetroot juice is rich in the mineral potassium, an electrolyte that helps muscles and nerves function, and helps stave off muscle cramps, fatigue, and weakness. Potassium also helps offset some of the heart-damaging effects of sodium.

Bottom line: It certainly isn’t snake oil. Beetroot juice is packed with vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants. That being said, we—and the entire nutrition community—are strong proponents of eating fresh, whole fruits and vegetables over juicing them. When you opt for beet juice over whole beets, you’re consuming a ton of extra sugar and slashing all of the fiber content that occurs naturally in root vegetables. This also means you’re less likely to feel full or remotely satisfied after drinking (versus eating) your beets and will feel your blood sugar spike instead. Simple solution: pack all of the above health benefits into your diet by making one of Real Simple’s best beet recipes—your absence of juice-induced hanger will speak for itself.

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