Nitrate-rich beetroot juice might enhance performance among top level athletes, according to a joint study from The University of Western Australia, the Western Australian Institute of Sport and the Australian Institute of Sport.
Dr Peter Peeling from UWA’s School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health at UWA was one of the scientists who looked at the influence beetroot supplements had on physiological and performance outcomes in elite kayakers.
The research saw six national-level male and five international-level female kayakers take part in a two-part study at the Western Australian Institute of Sport and the National Regatta Centre in Penrith.
"We looked at the difference that the use of a commercially available 70ml beetroot shot made to the time-trial performance and paddling economy of the athletes involved," Dr Peeling said.
"In laboratory-based four minute ergometer tests, the beetroot supplement had a small effect on the distance covered, but was effective in improving the task economy of the male kayakers. When we used a greater volume of beetroot juice (140ml) among our female participants during a field-based 500m kayaking time-trial, we found there was a meaningful performance improvement of 1.7 per cent."
"Given that the margin between gold and silver medals in the Men’s K1-1000m and the Women’s K1-500m races at the 2012 London Olympic Games was 0.3 per cent and 1.0 per cent respectively, the relatively small performance changes that we recorded are clearly relevant."
Dr Peeling said the nitrate in beetroot juice has been shown to improve "the efficiency of processes that occur in the mitochondria, which are the cell’s energy factory".
"This means ATP, the molecule known as a cell’s energy currency, can be spared during muscular activity, resulting in a decreased oxygen cost for a given task.
"If you can find a way of reducing the oxygen cost of a given activity, you might improve the ability to withstand the exercise intensity for a greater period of time, or you find a greater level of output for the original oxygen cost." he said.
"Beetroot juice is also known to improve explosive power and activate fast-twitch muscle fibres, although current literature is yet to establish why."
The study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, found the use of beetroot shots by high level athletes should be trialled on an individual basis with the load and dosage tailored for the desired outcome.
"However, the use of this natural vegetable supplement in sport has become increasingly popular, and seeing an athlete with red beetroot stained lips at an endurance event is no longer unusual," Dr Peeling said.