Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Great Beet Juice Experiment

If you've followed my blog for a while, you know that I'm constantly trying to improve my race times and train more effectively.  I'll experiment with anything and everything (legally of course ... I'm not a phony like Lance) related to training plans, diets, and strengthening exercises ... basically all in the name of trying to get the most out of my 44 year old body.  This experimentation has recently led me to drinking beet juice before my long runs.  And I think it might actually be working!

70ml beet juice concentrate shots from Beet It Sport
Research from Professor Andrew Jones, Ph.D., Head of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter in England, has indicated that consuming beet juice a few hours before a long run can actually improve your performance from 1-2%.  The science behind his theory is that the beet root contains a high volume of nitrates.  Relatively soon after these  nitrates are consumed, they are converted to nitric oxide in the blood stream.  The body then uses this shot of nitric oxide for various activities such as improved muscle contraction, blood flow, oxygen efficiency, and a slight reduction in blood pressure.  The level of nitric oxide typically peaks about 2-3 hours after consumption.  So I try to time when I drink the beet juice before a workout to coincide with the optimal time for peak performance.  The result is the body using less oxygen to perform the same amount of normal work.  So for our purposes, in theory after consuming a given amount of beet juice, you should be able to run a 7:20 pace'd mile with same energy you would typically expend to keep a 7:30 pace, or about 2% faster.

When I first started this little trial with the beet root, I drank actual beet juice. I bought a bottle of Biotta Beet Juice from my local grocery store in the health food section.  Problem ... to accomplish the 1-2% improved performance that has been achieved with tests on elite athletes, it's recommended that you consume about 16oz about 2 hours prior to the activity.  And before a long run of 20 miles or more, this was just too much fluid on my stomach of any kind ... especially the less than pleasant taste of beet juice.  But recently I found a product from Beet It Sport that has worked great.  They are little individually packaged 70ml bottles of beet juice concentrated shots.  The bottles are very similar in size, and somewhat taste, to those little 5-Hour Energy Shots.  I've been drinking two of those about 2 hours before a run for a total of about 140ml, which basically packs the same punch as 16oz of non-concentrated regular beet juice.  The two 70ml shots are a lot easier to drink, and don't fill me up like 16oz of fluid would before a long run.   The only down side is they're pretty expensive.  A pack of 15 cost me $68.99 (including shipping) ... or $4.59/shot ... or $9.20/per long run.  So I probably won't use them on anything less than 22 miles at a time.  That's just too much to spend for working out.

But the million dollar question is does it work?  Well, without rigging me up to a fancy machine and recording data from numerous long runs, on exactly the same amount of rest, and exactly the same diet, at exactly the same weight, in exactly the same weather conditions, on exactly the same course, and with me in the exact same shape every time, etc ... the answer to that question just seems really subjective.  The science is definitely there and I'm all in on the idea.  But to really quantify an exact variation in my typical performance levels at this point would only be a guess.  It "feels" like it's working, and I can tell you that I am ABSOLUTELY "fresher" deeper into long runs. But the flip-side is that I think I'm in better shape than I've ever been going into a marathon, and probably faster than I've ever been as well.  So who knows.  The beet juice might just be an expensive confidence booster.

So whether it's all  make believe, or 100% the reason behind better performances - only time will tell.  But for now I'm gonna keep experimenting with it.  I know this for sure ... beet juice definitely not making me slower!
... be great today!


  1. Hey Jim! I thought it was about time I caught up with your blog. Glad to hear the training is going so well. I've been trying beet juice, too, though not timed as precisely as you have. I think I'll switch it up and see if I can make it work as you have before long runs. And I like the taste, so maybe it won't be as nasty for me to go the less expensive route.

    My training has been decent too, though not as strong as yours. Just keeping my fingers crossed a) that I can avoid a cold from work or my kids and b) we have good weather on Oct. 13.

  2. I would like to try this beet juice too. But at that price, not sure if I can justify it. I'll be following your blog to see how well you think it works for you. Maybe then I can decide.

  3. Even if it's just a placebo effect I think it'd be worth it. There's a lot to be said for feeling confident - it can make a real difference to the outcome.

  4. Performance enhancing beets... I like it Jim, and I never disagree with unscientific findings if they make me feel fresher in a long run. Go BEET!

    LOL @ Michael! I know your line of thinking... just tell him you need the same amount in $$ for a new running outfit or a massage :)

  5. Jim the science guy. Did you say Beetlejuice?

  6. Liked the comments as much as the post :-). If it works or makes you feel like it works, it's worth it.

  7. Actually, some research has proven that a steady diet of beet juice, allows benefits for up to 48 hours! Beets are a #1 GMO crop in the USA, so I stick with organic beet juice!


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