Beetroot, the natural ingredient that spurred on our athletes, is thought to have wider health benefits
Article By Glenda Cooper: The Telegraph online 16th Sep 2012
As revealed in The Daily Telegraph last week, David Weir’s haul of four Paralympic gold medals was powered by a secret ingredient that is completely legal, scientifically proven to improve sporting performance, and has even been referred to as “legal blood doping”. What could this revolutionary aid be? Beta vulgaris – the simple beetroot.
Weir’s admission that he gulped down a slug of the plant’s juice during the marathon – rugby player Ben Foden and marathon runner Helen Davies are also fans – follows studies that suggest the “super root” can help more average athletes, too.
Rich in potassium, antioxidants and folic acid, beetroot was found to lower blood pressure back in 2008, by scientists at Barts and the London School of Medicine. In 2009, a University of Exeter study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that drinking 500ml of beetroot juice before exercise improved stamina. A second Exeter study last year found that cyclists could shave seconds off their time – similar benefits were found for runners in a US study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in April.
The reason for beetroot’s winning ways, says Professor Andy Jones, from the sport and health sciences department at Exeter, is nitrate, a nutrient found in soil that helps build protein. This converts into nitrite in the body and then into nitric oxide, which has a “double whammy” effect: it widens blood vessels, increasing blood flow; and it reduces the oxygen needed by muscles, enabling them to work more efficiently.
“We found this works most effectively in high-intensity exercise, typically races that last up to 30 minutes,” says Prof Jones. He says your average runner might feel the benefits of beetroot more than elite athletes whose muscles are already efficient.