Physiology Friday #135: Can Beetroot Juice Help Promote Recovery from Exercise?
The cardiovascular benefits of this bright-purple veggie are well known, but does it help you bounce back from a hard workout?
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Eat your beets for exercise recovery
Competitive and recreational athletes (we’re all one or the other!) are always looking for strategies to improve performance. Of course, proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, and some ergogenic aids like caffeine are great for attaining peak strength and endurance performance. Most of the time, we focus on what we can eat, drink, or supplement with to enhance performance during exercise.
But a crucial aspect of performing well the next day and adapting to training is recovery — everything we do when we aren’t exercising. The aforementioned sleep, nutrition, and hydration are crucial for recovery too. So, when it comes to finding the “extra edge” for recovery, what tools can we lean on in addition to the tried-and-true basics?
Nutritional supplements are one such tool. Unfortunately, supplement research — and supplements in general — is a murky area where evidence for any particular compound is often weak, if it exists at all.
Nonetheless, there are a few supplements with a well-evidenced track record for improving performance, one of those being nitrates or beetroot juice.
Consuming nitrates (which I’ll refer to from now on as beetroot juice) increases the availability of nitric oxide (NO) in the body. NO is extremely important for cardiovascular health and function. NO also promotes blood flow and oxygen delivery to skeletal muscle tissue, which explains the ability of nitrates to improve aerobic endurance.
The delivery of blood, nutrients and oxygen can also help to enhance recovery, especially after muscle-damaging or highly-fatiguing exercise.
A systematic reviewpublished in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health evaluated all of the evidence on the effects of beetroot juice supplementation on exercise recovery — a total of 15 randomized controlled trials including 327 participants, with cohorts including trained athletes (runners, triathletes, football players, cyclists, military personnel) and healthy active adults.
The protocols in most of the studies looked something like this. Participants were first given a beetroot juice supplement, after which they performed muscle-damaging or fatiguing exercise. After exercise (hours, days, or weeks, depending on the study), markers of muscle recovery and performance were evaluated.
9 of the 15 studies noted some type of significant improvement in recovery after beetroot juice supplementation, including effects such as:
Improved recovery of jumping and maximal voluntary contraction performance
Reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
Reduced pain and effort perception
Increased levels of antioxidants
Improved recovery of heart rate and blood pressure after exercise (i.e., decreased time to return these variables to resting values)
Interestingly, there were 3 studies that looked at markers of muscle damage, inflammation, and muscle performance after running a marathon. Beetroot juice supplementation failed to improve any aspects of muscle recovery in these studies. Rather, the beneficial effects observed in this review appeared to be more pronounced for anaerobic or power-based activities. Beetroot juice seems to improve recovery from jumping, sprinting, and resistance-type exercise more so than after endurance exercise.
It’s hard to draw any conclusions about beetroot juice & recovery from this review because of the wide variance in the participants, beetroot juice dosing, timing of supplementation, and types of exercise used in the included studies. If you’re willing to take a glance at the table of outcomes (which I’ve included below), you may be able to find a situation or study population that closely resembles you. If that’s the case, perhaps mimicking the dosing protocol around your next exercise session or training block could have some benefit.
Though we might not be able to definitively support or refute beetroot juice’s effect for recovery, there’s a wealth of evidence to support taking this supplement for other purposes. As I mentioned earlier, beetroot juice supplementation has been found to improve several aspects of aerobic endurance performance in different populations. There’s also strong data to support that beetroot juice supplementation benefits blood pressure, endothelial function, and other cardiovascular health outcomes.
There are limited downsides to consuming beetroot juice (other than an unfortunate and noticeable change in urine color…consider yourself warned). That being the case, beets should probably be on your menu at least a few times per week. If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of beetroot juice products available (like these, no affiliation) that contain a more concentrated dose. Your heart and muscles will thank you.
Thanks for reading. See you next Friday.