One of channel 4’s ‘Food Hospital’ episodes got us much more interested in Beetroot recently. We always enjoyed eating it in salads or roasted with other vegetables, but after seeing that it could actually enhance performance, we thought it warranted more research and maybe some ‘testing’ of our own!
Beetroot is a great source of antioxidants and nutrients (including; magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, iron & vitamin C). It is also rich in nitrates which the body uses to dilate the blood vessels, thus reducing blood pressure. So during exercise it can effectively increase blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles! Long term it can help prevent high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, as well as being a very healthy food to consume as it contains very little fat and is carbohydrate rich.
I found details of a study, conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter, England, which compared the effects of acute use of beetroot juice (one serving taken 2.5 hours before exercise) and chronic beetroot juice consumption (5 and 15 days) on blood pressure, the oxygen cost of submaximal exercise, and performance in an incremental exercise test.
They found that a single dose of beetroot juice was as effective in lowering blood pressure, reducing the oxygen cost of submaximal exercise, and boosting peak power in an incremental exercise test as 15 days of beetroot juice consumption!
I also found that past studies have shown it can reduce blood pressure in as little as 24 hours. Astonishing findings, effectively meaning that consuming beetroot regularly, or at least during the days leading up to a major event or training session can improve your body’s athletic performance!
We conducted our own mini-trial… although it is not particularly scientific! Of our regular training runs, we run a 4.2k distance 3 or 4 times a week (a nice loop near our home). The winter air and our recent longer distance runs have seen us improve our shorter run times in recent weeks, and our average pace for this kind of distance is around 5:15-5:20 per kilometre. Last week we made 3 runs of the same distance, the first and third runs were fueled in our usual way but the night before the second run we had a hearty beetroot rich soup (recipe below).
The first run was at a pace of 5:15 per kilometre
The second run (after the beetroot soup) was at a pace of 5 minutes exactly per kilometre
The third run was at a pace of 5:13 per kilometre.
Whether there is some psychological reason behind this improvement in the second run we don’t know, but given the clinical trial results found online (which used test groups and placebo controls) and the large boost in pace during our second run, we’re reasonably happy that we can see (and feel) a difference. Time will tell I guess… We’ll be eating more of it regularly, but also it will become part of our pre-race plans.
Preparing it for consumption is easy enough, they can be thinly sliced or shredded and eaten raw, added to salad etc, or boiled, roasted or grilled even!
During our own mini-trials I made a Beetroot & Carrot Soup:
4 x beetroots
2 x carrots
200 ml vegetable stock
Half an onion – diced
1 x garlic clove – crushed
Thoroughly clean the beetroot, but don’t peel the skin off (it keeps all that lovely colour in and if cleaned its yummy to eat too!) and quarter them for roasting. Peel the carrots and chop into large chunks and add to the tray. Pour in a tiny amount of Olive Oil in and mix the pieces around so they all get a light covering. Sprinkle with a little salt and lots of fresh thyme. Put in the centre of a pre-heated oven at 190 Degrees for around 30 minutes (keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn).
Just before the veg is ready, saute the onion & garlic in a pan until soft (I added a little more fresh thyme here too, just to ensure that lovely flavour came through).
Throw the roasted veg (you might want to chop it a little smaller for your blender), onions and stock in the blender and blitz it all together. It will produce a very thick consistency soup, unless you add more liquid or adjust the veg amounts to suit.
I served this with a chunk of fresh spelt bread. It was insanely filling and neither of us finished our normal sized soup bowl!!
Warning: Consumption of beetroot will produce pink through to bright red pee and poo, so don’t panic during the hours / days after consumption as it can be a bit of a shock! 😉
Given the health benefits of this vegetable, plus the boost it can give to athletic performance, it is right up there in our personal favourites and we highly recommend you eat lots of it!! Beetroot = Superfood!