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How beets can benefit your running

Beets are a well-known performance enhancer, and they're 100 per cent legal


Beets, like coffee, are well known for their 100 per cent legal performance-enhancing properties. (They’re also full of health-promoting vitamins, iron, folic acid, and anti-oxidants.) A few years ago, beet juice was found to increase levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the blood, which increases blood flow to the muscles, stimulates mitochondria growth, and strengthens muscle contractions, leading to significantly enhanced endurance in athletes (as much as 16 per cent, according to one early study). Other vegetables also contain nitric oxide, such as carrots, lettuce, spinach, chinese cabbage, bok choy, cabbage, arugula, and rhubarb.

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The news kept getting better. A 2014 study found that beets may also be useful in increasing blood flow to fast-twitch muscle fibres, helping you get faster. 

Some research used recreational runners as subjects, and found slightly improved 5K time trial results and lower perceived effort when runners drank beetroot juice before their runs.

However, a 2017 review of 23 studies on the subject showed that beet juice is definitely a performance enhancer, but that its effectiveness may be less when combined with other supplements, such as caffeine. (So if you’re going to experiment, don’t go crazy trying to beet-and-coffee-load, better to stick to one or the other.)

RELATED: The link between coffee and running performance


Beets are harvested in the fall, so there’s no better time to try them out than fall racing season. However, be careful not to consume too much, since overdoing it can upset your stomach. Registered dietitian and sports nutritionist Megan Kuikman of Brantford, Ont. has some great information on beets on her website. 

How to make your own beet juice

Use beets within a few days of buying or harvesting. Roasting beets in the oven before you juice them is optional; it will make them softer and easier to blend. If you have a powerful blender, roasting is not necessary.

Wash, peel and cut the beets into 1-inch pieces and put them in your blender or bullet. Add just enough water to cover the beets. Blend until smooth (about a minute).

Pour juice through a fine mesh strainer. Press the pulp with a spoon to force all the juice out of it. Strain again. You can add more water if it’s too thick. Sweeten with maple syrup or honey if desired. It’s best to make only what you can consume right away, to avoid the danger of bacteria growth. Enjoy!