Boosting Performance with Beets

sarah cuff Food for Runners, Running Performance, Vegetables 8 Comments

DSC_0006I’m racing the Steveston 8km Ice Breaker Road Race this Sunday. And I’m going to try something new. Beetroot juice. Although I can’t believe I personally have not yet tried this particular ergogenic aid – it’s entirely true. I have not.

However I’ve had a number of clients and workshop participants who have given beetroot juice a go, and tell me it really does work! Studies are mixed – some say yes, some say no. Some suggest it works better in moderately trained athletes and not so well in elite athletes – while other suggest the boost for most is so small it’s only meaningful for elite athletes. What I’ve seen in practice is that it works for some but not others – it’s worth a try. 

Research shows that beetroot consumption prior to running can, at best, result in an increase in speed by up to 3% (that’s about 8 seconds faster per km / 13 seconds faster per mile than you otherwise would be). While this might not sound like a lot, it could translate into about 41 seconds faster over a 5k race, which I think you’ll agree is relatively significant!

To receive the benefits of beetroot, drink 1-2 cups of beet juice 2 to 2.5 hours before running OR eat about 2 medium sized cooked beets 75-90 minutes before running. If you dislike red beets, try golden beets, they still contain the nitrates responsible for performance enhancement.

The inorganic nitrates in beet juice are converted by our bodies into nitrite then nitric oxide, which then positively affect blood flow, muscle contraction and neurotransmission (making us run faster).


However, please note that you shouldn’t gargle with mouthwash or chew gum before drinking beet juice! If the friendly bacteria in your mouth is eliminated, the nitrate is unable to be converted (the bacteria is required for the conversion). So drink your beetroot juice… And then brush your teeth!

If you want to dive deeper into the science and specifics of the studies that have been done on beetroot juice, there was a great meta-analysis of 17 studies conducted in 2013, click here to read it.

Interesting side note – supposedly caffeine and beetroot juice work very well together to further enhance performance. I’ve long used caffeine for performance enhancement… And this Sunday will try adding beet juice to the mix! I

f you’ve tried using beets for performance enhancement, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers,


Sarah J Cuff, RHN

PS. A disclaimer: I’m infamous for trying new things before an important race. Please don’t do that (lol). Test these methods out in advance of your goal race, to ensure your race day goes smoothly and according to plan! A sure side effect of consuming red beets is discolouration of your urine for the next few hours – however some runners also report GI distress. Also, because beets are high in oxalates, those who tend to form kidney stones are likely better off avoiding beet juice.

Comments 8

  1. Great job yesterday, saw you in the pics online of the race! I should have had the beer juice this year, because I was slower by three minutes:( I will definitely use it next time!!

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      Thanks so much! No way, I’ll have to go check out the online pics. Aww, well technically the beet juice could only have helped you with about 1 minute 😉 Great work out there nonetheless, always great to get out and race!!

  2. Can I eat the beetroot not cooked? Is there any difference between cooked or not cooked? I eat a lot of them with salad, not cooked, the taste is better.

    All the best

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      Hi Francisco… Yes! You could absolutely eat the beetroot cooked – studies show they still do the same thing. Just keep in mind you’re getting all the fibre you wouldn’t get in the juice, so having them just before running may or may not work… Just be sure to experiment! Cheers, Sarah

  3. Pingback: 5 Ways to Avoid (or Combat) High Blood Pressure - Eat 2 Run

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