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Most of us know that getting your nutrition and hydration on point around training and matches is hugely important. In this article I’m going to reveal the surprising benefits you can get from a food which you wouldn’t necessarily associate with sporting performance…beetroot!
There have been reports of how beetroot can in fact boost your level of stamina by 15%! In terms of looking for an edge on the pitch, that is huge (especially considering how easy it is to implement).
Beetroot is particularly rich in nitrates (compounds found naturally in vegetables), which are then converted into nitric oxide inside the body.
Nitric oxide has several different metabolic and vascular effects, that produce improvements in exercise performance. It’s important in regulating blood flow, muscle glucose uptake and muscle contraction. The level of nitric oxide in the blood drops during exercise, so taking extra supplies on-board via beetroot can really help to boost your performance.
What effects does beetroot have on exercise performance?
Beetroot has been shown to be effective in improving blood flow by triggering the widening of blood vessels…but it can also lower oxygen consumption for any given workload and improve exercise capacity during short-duration high-intensity running.
Although there is a lot of evidence that beetroot can improve general sporting performance, it has not yet been widely studied specifically for football. However! Many of the adaptations which occur can be easily applied to football and give a clear advantage to you on the pitch.
Let’s look at some studies…
Researchers found that athletes using an aggressive loading dose of concentrated beetroot juice produced improvements in the distance run on the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test, when compared with a group using only a placebo supplement.
The athletes using the beetroot juice ingested:
On each day of the experiment before performing the test, the athletes consumed a further:
Results showed that performance in the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test was 4.2% greater with the beetroot juice athletes compared to placebo group.
Interestingly, the researchers also observed reduced plasma glucose during exercise in the beetroot athletes, suggesting that muscle glucose uptake efficiency had improved.
Delivering glucose to the muscles is important, because glucose provides the dominant fuel required for repeated high intensity exercise performance. This effect alone could be the reason for the level of improved exercise performance in the beetroot athletes.
In a different study, participants were given either 70ml of beetroot juice or a placebo for 5 days. On day 5, participants completed a series of maximal 20-m sprints followed by the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test.
Cognitive tests measuring:
were also completed before and after the test. The study resulted in the beetroot athletes covering 3.9% more distance in the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test compared to placebo group. The reaction time in the cognitive tasks was also 4.7% shorter in the beetroot juice group than in the placebo group at rest.
Beetroot has also been shown to improve time-to-exhaustion. 250ml of beetroot juice taken twice a day, improved time-to-exhaustion at intensities of 60%, 70%, 80% and 100% peak power compared to a placebo.
Researchers believe that there is a lower VO2 response at submaximal intensities, delaying the time to which participants reached VO2 max allowing for a longer sustained effort! VO2 max is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen that you can utilise during intense or maximal exercise.
Beetroot has also been found to enhance the rate of ATP production (great for repeated sprint performance) but only when beetroot is taken over a sustained period rather than as a one-off.
It sounds too good to be true! There must be some negatives…?
Research indicates that beetroot supplementation is less effective at improving performance in elite athletes, because highly trained athletes appear to be less sensitive to the additional nitric oxide availability provided by consuming beetroot.
However (more good news!), this can be overcome by simply increasing the amount being consumed before a match (please try doing this before training first because of the risk of stomach upset).
Can you just eat beetroot and get the same result?
The exact number of nitrates in beetroot can vary depending on the soil conditions and time of year. Therefore it's best to take beetroot in juice form to ensure you are taking in enough nitrates. It is not yet certain whether it is best taken as a one-off just before a match or taken over several days.
Due to the limited research in regards to this, it’s a good idea to experiment to see what works best for you (if you do opt to try it before a match, make sure it’s not within about 90 minutes of kick off).
Either way, you should consume at least 70ml of beetroot juice to get the benefits mentioned above on the football pitch. Higher doses are better if you are more highly trained (elite vs sub-elite footballer) and/or have a high level of training (i.e. during the season).
So in a nutshell, beetroot looks like a pretty good choice when you’re looking for an edge in terms of stamina over your opponents. Ofcourse this is only part of the equation, for best results you must also ensure the rest of your diet is good and nutritious and be following an effective training programme.
Beetroot can give you an edge, it will not be the answer to all your fitness problems, you must also be training hard and smart and eating well. And as mentioned above, please try anything new before training first to see if it works for you!
Domínguez, R., Cuenca, E., Maté-Muñoz, J. L., García-Fernández, P., Serra-Paya, N., Estevan, M. C. L., ... & Garnacho-Castaño, M. V. (2017). Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. A systematic review. Nutrients, 9(1), 43. Available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28067808
Morton, J. P. SSE# 130: Supplements for Consideration in Football. Available here: http://gssiweb.org/en-ca/article/sse-130-supplements-for-consideration-in-football
Oliveira, C. C., Ferreira, D., Caetano, C., Granja, D., Pinto, R., Mendes, B., & Sousa, M. (2017). Nutrition and supplementation in soccer. Sports, 5(2), 28. Available here: http://www.mdpi.com/2075-4663/5/2/28
Walton, G. (1951). Survey of literature relating to infant methemoglobinemia due to nitrate-contaminated water. Available here: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.41.8_Pt_1.986