Beets – From Sports Performance To Heart Health

Beets (Beta vulgaris) are among the healthiest and most versatile plants EVER.

Linked to numerous health benefits in dozens of worldwide studies, you could take them for anything that comes to mind. Or, well, almost anything.

From heart health to outstanding physical performance.

Curious to learn the details? Let’s roll!

May kill some cancer cells

Betanin, the reddish dye that gives beetroot its color, has been reported to have some cancer-killing properties.

Specifically, this effect has been highlighted against some forms of pancreatic, prostate and breast cancers.

Although the impact isn’t as powerful as that of conventional chemotherapy drugs, these two approached could be used together for better results.

Have significant antioxidative properties

Beets are rich in phenolic compounds, flavonoids, and other natural antioxidants.

Some animal studies reported that the antioxidative power of beets could be great for improving toxin-induced memory disorders, reducing kidney damage, and protecting the liver.

Could help in controlling blood pressure

Beetroot is rich in dietary nitrates which your body transforms into nitrites—and then into nitric oxide (NO). NO is the body’s most powerful and universal vasodilator, meaning a substance that relaxes and widens the blood vessels.

NO oxide has a lot of applications. For example, the nitroglycerin that’s used to treat heart attacks is basically a nitric oxide bomb that expands the vessels in the heart and restores cardiac blood circulation.

Another direct effect of NO is that it can lower blood pressure, and beets seem to be just fabulous for that:

  • A 2012 study reported that taking 500 ml (about 16 fl oz) of beetroot juice reduced blood pressure by 4-5 mmHg in 6 hours in healthy adults
  • A 2013 study reported a similar effect in people eating beetroot bread (although beetroot juice seems to be more effective)

What’s also fabulous is that beets don’t come with any kind of nasty side effects. This is great for those cases when you have to be extra picky about what kind of medications you take.

May protect from blood clots

Dietary nitrates and nitric oxide have been reported to improve vascular health, but did you know they seem to be beneficial for the blood as well?

Specifically, nitric oxide seems to reduce the reactivity of platelets in the blood—the blood cells that are responsible for the formation of blood clots.

Essentially, beetroots are natural blood-thinners. Don’t worry, this effect won’t be enough to make you bleed to death after a minor injury—but will surely help those folks who have an increased cardiovascular risk.

San Antonio Beet Juice

Photographer: K15 Photos | Source: Unsplash

May improve blood health in general

In 2018, an interesting Iranian study researched if drinking 200 ml (about 32 fl oz) of beetroot juice for 6 weeks would have an impact on the blood parameters of a group of female soccer players.

The results were quite unexpected.

Beetroot juice seems to have improved the total number of red blood cells, amount of hemoglobin, and iron level in the blood. These changes suggest that drinking beetroot juice could help to prevent or treat anemia. Then again, the sample in this study wasn’t that big (just 20 subjects), so more studies on this matter are still needed to be sure.

Boost physical performance

Nitric oxide is a well-known booster of physical performance. That’s exactly why many pre-workout supplements are jam-packed with compounds that help the body to produce more NO.

The idea is simple:

  1. Nitric oxide widens up the blood vessels in the muscles
  2. Wider blood vessels = better blood supply
  3. Better blood circulation in the muscles = more oxygen, more glucose, and more nutrients for better performance

Curious what the studies say on this matter? Check them out!

  • In 2016, a small study reported that taking 400 mg of nitrates before exercise increased the number of repetitions to failure and total weight lifted
  • In 2015, a European study reported that taking 140 ml of beetroot juice daily for a week boosted sprinting performance and reaction speed
  • A 2011 study reported that beetroot juice improved the physical performance in cyclists by 2.8% and 2.7% in a 2.5-mile and a 10-mile ride respectively

If you plan to use beets to step up your workout game, keep in mind that timing is important here. Nitrates seem to have a significant effect on physical performance only in the first 5-40 minutes after ingestion. On the other hand, there are a few studies that recommend taking beetroot juice 90 minutes before exercise so… You’ll have to test both approaches and see what’s works best for you.

Oh, and one more thing: caffeine kinda curbs the effect of beetroot juice, as reported by a few studies. More data is needed to be sure, but right now it seems you’ll have to choose one.

May help soothe inflammation

Beetroots are rich in betalains, a class of red plant pigments. Animal studies reported that betalains could reduce inflammation by tweaking the function of immune cells, reducing local edema (swelling), and suppressing oxidative damage.

May improve erection quality in males

In males, nitric oxide is one of the primary factors that define the strength and duration of erections. NO relaxes and widens the cavernous bodies in the penis, allowing more blood to flow into the organ.

Although there are no studies on how beet juice could help with erectile function, logic suggests that it could be beneficial in theory. Since it’s cheap, accessible, and absolutely safe—why not try it out, as a mild lifestyle change?

If it helps with muscle pumps in the gym, it could help with other kinds of pump too.

Have awesome nutritional value

Last but not least, let’s not forget that beets are rich in all sorts of healthy micronutrients. Just 3.5 ounces of beetroots contain quite a bit of folate (20% of the recommended daily intake, RDI), manganese (16% RDI), potassium (9% RDI), vitamin C (6% RDI), and fiber.

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Final thoughts

Beets are seriously underrated and under-eaten plants.

That’s a huge miss, given the long list of beneficial health effects they seem to have. So why don’t we try to improve the situation together?

The easiest way of doing that is by drinking 3-5 fl oz of beetroot juice every day for a few weeks and see how your body responds to the drink.

For even better effects, just eat your beets—and enjoy the power of dietary fiber! Eating more fiber has been reported to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and various gastrointestinal conditions too, so eating your beets could be even better than drinking beetroot juice.

– The Cost Plus Nutrition Team