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Eat Right: The Benefits Of Beets

  • By Matthew Kaey, R.D.
  • Published Nov 8, 2013
  • Updated Feb 4, 2014 at 12:36 PM UTC
Photo: John David Becker

Work this nutrition-rich root vegetable into your diet for performance gains.

Who would have thought that a root vegetable would be the next big ergogenic aid? Yet, a batch of research strongly suggests that a beet a day may, well, help you beat the competition. Case in point: A 2012 study by researchers at St. Louis University found that subjects who ate about 1½ cups of beets 75 minutes before a running test were able to move at a faster clip and perceived less exertion than those who didn’t take in the ruby vegetable pre-exercise. The scientists surmise that naturally occurring nitrates in beets are converted to nitric oxide in the body which functions to widen blood vessels, thereby allowing for increased blood flow, and subsequently the delivery of more oxygen and nutrients, to working muscles. Nitrates may also improve how efficiently your muscles use oxygen during activity. As a bonus, the nitrates in beets have blood pressure-lowering efficacy, and betalins, pigments that give the root vegetable its distinctive blush, are believed to be strong disease-fighting antioxidants. To get the most performance-boosting benefit it’s best to consume beets for several days before race day.

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Here’s how to sneak more in:
- Guzzle down a cup or two of homemade or store-bought beet juice daily and the morning of a race. Red Ace Organics (Redaceorganics.com) offers a good source of concentrated beet juice for athletes. If the taste of beet juice is off-putting on its own, try cutting it with other juices like orange or whirl the beet smoothie at right.
- Add roasted or grated beets to everyday salads.
- Purée beets into soups.
- Make up batches of beetroot chips for healthy snacks.

Beet Raspberry Smoothie

Place 1½ cups coconut water, 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 small beets (chopped), 5 pitted dates, ¼ cup almonds or walnuts, 2 T fresh mint, juice of half a lemon, 2 tsp minced fresh ginger, ½ tsp cinnamon and 1 cup frozen raspberries in a blender container in the order listed and blend for 1 minute. Serves 2.

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