There’s been rumblings of beets improving athletic performance for years, thanks to the high concentration of nitrates. When you consume dietary sources of nitrate, your body breaks it down to nitric oxide, which is a strong vasodilator. A vasodil-what?! In short: Nitric oxide enlarges your blood vessels, allowing more blood to travel to where you need it, such as the muscles you use when you’re working out. The result? Your body uses less oxygen during exercise and has a higher tolerance for high-intensity exercise.
New research from Kansas State University reinforces beets as a positive for athletic performance. According to the study, drinking beetroot juice resulted in a 38 percent increase in blood flow to the skeletal muscles, especially fast-twitch muscles responsible for short burts of speed or strength, which typically receive less oxygen. Another study from St. Louis University found that eating baked beets improved running times during a 5K time trial, notably during the last mile compared the placebo.
More: A Beginner’s Guide to Running a 10K
So, should you try supplementing with beets? According to Dr. Jordan Metzl, sports medicine doctor and author of The Exercise Cure, the answer is maybe.
"I wouldn’t experiment with them on race day," said Metzl. "It’s not a bad idea to try before a training run based on the new evidence coming out. There’s nothing better than hard training, but if you’re looking for that extra edge, it’s worth a try."
Don’t like beets? Leafy green vegetables like spinach, arugla and chard also are good sources of nitrate.