Two years ago, a good friend, Margaret Murphy, needed subjects for her research study, in which I would have to run two 5k time trials one week apart and eat something before each trial. I figured why not be subject for a friend when one day I will be need subjects for my research too. I volunteered not knowing what I was getting myself into!
The first time trial I was randomly given beets to eat an hour before the time trail….I will never forget this movement when I had to force down 7 ounces of baked beets! Luckily, I was able to drink water while I ate! One mouth full at a time, I pinched my nose, scooped a large spoonful of beets into my mouth, took a large gulp of water, and swallowed not letting go of my nose! My empty stomach was not prepared to digest this foreign vegetable, but I completed the time trial will only a few belly rumbles. Leading up to the next week’s time trial, I was dreading the idea of eating beets again. Thankfully, this time I was given 7 ounces of cranberries before the second time trial (mashed cranberries and baked beets have a similar appearance)! However, my first time trial was actually faster than the second and this was actually the case with most of the subjects. The study had significant results and has become an important research study among the nutrition and exercise fields proving the acute benefits of eating beets before exercise.
Why did beets increase physical performance?
The simple answer is BEETS contain NITRATES, which are converted to nitrites and then into NITRIC OXIDE in the body. Nitric oxide helps bring oxygen to the muscles by widening (relaxing) the smooth blood vessels (vasodilation) causing an increase in blood flow to the muscles that need it most. Therefore, when exercising, the increased blood flow to the working muscles will help them work more efficiently and making exercise bouts of high intensity feel easier and increasing one’s physical performance.
If you want a more detailed answer about the acute effects of consuming beets before exercise, here is the published research article that I was a participant for Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance and recommendations by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
TAKE AWAY POINTS:
- To elicit an acute response to improve physical performance, eat 500 mg of nitrates (200 grams of beetroot or an equivalent nitrate dose from other vegetable sources) 60 minutes before exercise.
- Not only are these acute benefits from consuming nitrates-rich vegetables ideal for athletes, but they may also benefit populations with comprised functional capacity such as heart failure patients and the frail elderly population.
- Beets contain not only nitrates, but fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, which may decrease any harmful effects of nitrates that have been linked to medical conditions. Other vegetables, besides beets, that contain large amounts of nitrates are cauliflower, spinach, collard greens, and broccoli.
- On the contrary, long-term effects of consuming nitrate rich vegetables needs to be researched further for erogenic and medical effects.
A few weeks ago, I decided give beets a second chance! Surprisingly, now I love beets…raw, roasted, baked, and juiced!
3 Ways to Buy Beets
Buying raw beets is the best because they are not processed like canned and vacuumed packed, but if you are not a fan of possibly getting little bit messy by peeling and cutting raw beets yourself, you can buy them in the processed forms. Tip: peel and cut beets in in the sink under a running faucet or wear sandwich bags on your hands when cutting raw beets to not stain your hands red! :)
4 ways to Eat Beets
- Raw: peel and slice/chop/grate
- You can eat them cold by themselves as a side or add them to salads! Beets always help create a colorful salad!
- Roasted: peel, slice/chop, toss with olive oil (just enough to cover your veggies) and seasonings (rosemary, thyme, pepper, and salt), bake on 350 degrees F for 45 minutes (stir every 15 minutes)
- Roast them with butternut squash and brussels sprouts! My favorite vegetable combination and appealing to the eye with color!
- You can eat roasted vegetables hot or cold!
- Baked: peel and slice, toast with olive oil, and bake on 375 degrees F for 1 hour (time will depend on how thin you make slices).
- Juiced: peel, slice/chop if necessary (depending on your machine) and place in the blender/juicer.
0.3 grams of fat
0 milligrams of cholesterol
19.1 grams of carbohydrates
5.6 grams of fiber
3.2 grams of protein
32 milligrams of calcium
156 milligrams of sodium
650 milligrams of potassium
500 mg of nitrates
If you haven’t tried beets or want to given them a second change (like me!), try eating the in one or all of these ways shown above! Enjoy!
How do you like your beets?!?!?!?
Roasted is my favorite!
WARNING: It is completely normal for your urine and stool to be red up to 24-48 hours after consuming beets! Don’t panic, beets are a natural red food dye! I am telling you this from experience after having a two minute freak out until I realized I ate beets! :)