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The study “Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance” aimed to determine if beetroot consumption affects exercise endurance.

Beetroot contains nitrate, a compound that has been shown to improve exercise performance, however, it has also been linked to adverse health effects when ingested alone, but not when consumed in the form of vegetables. Hence the specific interest in beetroot, which happens to be rich in nitrates.

The study was conducted as a double-blind crossover study with the participating men and woman divided into two groups, one which received beetroot to complement their diet and one which did not.

Those receiving beetroot did show a slight, but statistically significant, increase in performance endurance; they were both running faster on average and with a perceived less exertion. The conclusion, therefore, is that beetroot improves running performance in healthy adults.

The researchers suggest that the nitrates found in beetroot reduce oxygen consumption during exercise. The rationale is that nitrate has beneficial effects on muscular efficiency once converted into nitric oxide, which is a biochemical pathway important during exercise. Since your body uses nitric oxide in several different capacities and some of which are especially important during exercise (related to endothelium and vasodilation).

So, the next time you are to run a marathon, eat a beetroot, or two. The study has been published in the scientific journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. See below for reference from PubMed, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Apr;112(4):548-52. Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance.
Lansley et al. Acute Dietary Nitrate Supplementation Improves Cycling Time Trial Performance. Med Sci Sports Exer; 2011, 43 (6), 1125-31