DISCUSSIONS ON THE USES OF BEET ROOT FROM A BIOMEDICAL AND TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE
By: Matthew Sabey Smith, DACM
***Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be used as grounds to claim a cure of any disease. If you are thinking about using an herb, supplement, or therapy of any kind please first consult your primary care provider ***
Beets For Endurance
Who knew the powers that one could withhold simply by picking up a simple vegetable root? Beet root may just be that for many people looking to improve their endurance! Beet root has been gaining some popularity in the sports world, particularly in the realm of endurance athletes. So what is it about beet root that makes it so special?
Properties & Functions: Vasodilation Through Nitric Oxide Increase
Beets are a root vegetable that are typically crimson or a red-purple color (pigments known as betalains). What makes the beet root so effective is that it increases the amount of nitric oxide production in the body. The result of this phenomenon is that it creates vasodilation within the body. Vasodilation is essentially a relaxation of blood vessels. Now why could this be useful? Vasodilation of the blood vessels makes it easier for oxygen to go throughout the body with less effort. The vasodilation that occurs from beet root can even help normalize blood pressure by reducing a high systolic blood pressure or raising an abnormally low systolic blood pressure. There have not been found to be many effects on the diastolic blood pressure.
On top of that, beet root has vitamin A, vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Iron, phosphorus, beta carotene, beta cyanine, folic acid, magnesium and of course fiber. The nitrate content present in beet root is how the conversion to nitric oxide occurs and thus the desired vasodilation starts.
Endurance Enhancement Associated With Athletes
Now that we have discussed the impressive array of nutrients present in beet root, how can this benefit athletes? Athletes are always looking for the next edge to improve their performance, so many have turned to beet root as a result. Due to the effects of vasodilation from the production of nitric oxide in the body, athletes are improving their power output without increasing their oxygen intake. So what does this mean? This essentially means athletes are able to do more work (power output) with the same amount of oxygen they would be able to take in during any given race or competition (Murphy et al., 2012). However, the body can now utilize that oxygen more effectively and create a better performance. It has been found in cyclists that 500ml of beet root juice consumed two and a half hours before exercise can improve power output by 7%-11% (Sly, 2019). A minor improvement in power output? I think not!
Even eating 200 grams of cooked beet root will have a positive impact on any athlete. Running athletes demonstrated 3% increase in running velocity. That is the equivalent of shaving 41 seconds off of a 5 kilometer run (Sly, 2019)! All from just eating your vegetables...well your beets at least!
Adverse Effects & Contraindications
It would seem as if I am speaking of a miracle vegetable, well beet root certainly could have its place in your performance enhancement. With that said it is important to note some things that you should expect as a result of beet root consumption. For some people, beet root can cause some GI distress and your excrement will have pink or red in it. No, beets don’t cause internal bleeding, it is just the pigment that affects the urine and stool as a result so don’t worry!
This is something important to note for all you coffee drinkers though! By consuming caffeine with your beets, you can potentially rid yourself of the positive effects of beet root for enhancing your athletic performance. This could potentially be because caffeine constricts blood vessels while the nitrates from the beets are converted to nitric oxide, which are trying to dilate the blood vessels (Dominguez et al., 2017)!
Why Use It Over Other TCM Therapies
In traditional chinese medicine (TCM) there are many herbs and foods we could look to in order to improve performance. Since the TCM pharmacopia is full of adaptogens, why not use something like ginseng (Ren Shen) or cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao) for example? Ginseng and cordyceps could increase your energy and increase your endurance, absolutely! However, I like the idea of beet root due to its easy accessibility, the specific effects of vasodilation, and thus improved oxygen utilization. It seems to be the perfect pre-workout food that is realistic for most individuals who can make it to the grocery store!
Overall, beet root is an essential for any athlete looking to get an edge, even you anaerobic athletes! Due to the optimal utilization of oxygen, your recovery and work output is still lessened by consuming beets! In order to safely and effectively increase your power output, without supplements, beets are a wonderful alternative, cooked or uncooked (making the effects not temperature sensitive). Try it for your next workout, you may be pleasantly surprised!
Domínguez, R., Cuenca, E., Maté-Muñoz, J. L., García-Fernández, P., Serra-Paya, N., Estevan, M. C., . . . Garnacho-Castaño, M. V. (2017, January 06). Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Retrieved March 29, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295087/
Murphy, M., Eliot, K., Heueretz, R. M., & Weiss, E. (2012, March 28). Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212267211019484
Sly, B. (2019, January 31). Endurance Athletes: Beetroot Can Improve Your Performance. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from https://breakingmuscle.com/healthy-eating/endurance-athletes-beetroot-can-improve-your-performance
Health & Human Performance Coach, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, professor, and competitive strength athlete, Matthew Sabey Smith DACM, MSOM, Dipl.Ac,, CPT is the owner and founder of Strength Smith Training Systems LLC. With an extensive background in integrative holistic health, training and coaching, Dr. Matt uses his knowledge to help individuals improve their training, boost their recovery and maintain optimal balance as they chase their athletic, fitness and health endeavors.
Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Coach, Professor, and competitive strength athlete, Matthew Sabey Smith DACM, MSOM, LAc., Dipl.Ac,, CPT is the owner and founder of Strength Smith Training Systems LLC. With an extensive background in integrative holistic health, training and coaching, Dr. Matt uses his knowledge to help individuals improve their training, boost their recovery and maintain optimal balance as they chase their athletic, fitness and health endeavors.