Before NO2 explode and creatine supplements filled the shelves of supplement stores and online BodyBuilding Forums, great athletes throughout time relied on regular ole foods that grew straight out of the ground. Much of the market boasts about mega nutrients and superfoods backed by mountains of research.
But is that right?
Do you have to rely on synthetic chemicals and Frankenfood concoctions to boost your performance?
Sadly, the most ordinary foods are often overlooked for their ability to pack a punch your performance. Let’s take beets for example.
When was the last time you ate a beet?
Beets fed millions of Russians in economic turmoil throughout the years, but there’s a hidden benefit to them as well.
Unfortunately, the Big Beet is not as influential as the marketers of Coca Cola, McDonalds, or even Big Dairy. However, some sneaky scientists were able to study beets and find all about their ability to increase your endurance beyond your wildest dreams.
Saying NO to Busting Records
NO is the abbreviated form of nitric oxide, a key messenger in your body.
What exactly is it saying?
It is secreted by the cells lining your blood vessels to relax your arteries and let them open up for more blood to flow.
Eating an antioxidant-rich diet can up your NO flow, but so can nitrate-rich foods- like beets!
Your body can naturally convert the nitrates in beets, and other nitrate-rich leafy greens, into nitrites. It’s essentially Viagra that works naturally with no side effects. Well, except for a beet-red tint to your urine. Otherwise it’s completely safe.
Don’t believe me? Good thing the British Heart Foundation funded a beet juice study where they gave subjects just ½ cup of beet juice a day for 4 weeks. That’s essentially a quick shot of it a day which led to a significant 8 point drop in blood pressure due to an increase in NO.
But how does that help you push past your current personal bests?
It turns out that nitrates not only help deliver more oxygen to your muscles, through relaxing your arteries, but also help your body extract more energy from that oxygen. Terms like more are so vague though.
Let’s put some numbers to that, shall we?
One study looked at freedivers. These athletes have fantastic metabolisms, as mentioned in Upgrade you Breath, the over 22 minute record breath hold is owned by a freediver. Just a shot of beet juice helps free divers hold their breath for a half minute longer than usual.
If you’re not used to practicing breathing exercises then right now give it a shot. Take a big gulp of air and clamp your mouth shut, try to hold your breath for time.
Now, imagine you’ve trained and spent years increasing that number from one minute, to two, all the way to four. How powerful would it be to have a shot of beet juice to instantly increase your PR by another 30 seconds.
That’s a 125% increase in performance.
In another study, a sip of beet juice helped cyclists perform at the same intensity while consuming 19% less oxygen than the placebo group.
The riders then cranked up the intensity to what the egg-heads call “severe cycling”. Beet drinkers extended the time to exhaustion from 9:43 to 11:15 compared to the placebo controlled group.
This translates into greater endurance with less oxygen.
Which is handy both in competition when you’re looking for that slight edge to bring out your best performance and when you’re leaning into your edges during training.
I like packing things in groups of threes, so just one more study. Runners were fed 1 ½ cups of cooked beets 75 minutes before a 5k race. Just to prove you don’t need a juicer to squeeze all the benefits out of beets. The racers eating cooked beets reported less exertion even though their heart still pumped its hardest.
If you’re trying to increase your endurance, make feats of strength look effortless, or just live as long as you can as well as you can here’s your next action step:
2-3 hours before you go train or competition drink ½ cup beet juice, eat 3 3-inch beets, or eat 1 cup cooked spinach.
A tasty way to do that is with a tasty and simple borsch recipe:
Personal Best Borsch
What You’ll Need
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium beets, peeled and shredded
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup tomato puree
2 medium white turnips, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 medium parsnips, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cabbage, diced
What You’ll Do
Place a large pot over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions, carrots, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, cabbage and garlic.
Over medium heat, saute the vegetables for 10 minutes. Add the beets, and cover with water.
Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the can of diced tomatoes and tomato puree. Add enough water to cover the vegetables by about 4 inches.
Simmer for another 20 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, taste, and season with salt, pepper.
You can make this one pot meal in advance and store it to enjoy all week long.
Not a fan of beets?
Try a more potent mix of herbs like the Hercules Pre-Workout Formula. It’s still all natural, with no additives or other gunk. Plus, you only need to take it 15 minutes before you train, which makes it flexible enough to fit into the busiest of lives. It won’t taste as sweet as beets, but it’ll definitely make up for that in results!
By Zack Zeller B.E.
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2. Bailey SJ, Winyard P, Vanhatalo A, et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009;107(4):1144-55.
5. Franzini L, Ardigo D, Valtuena S, et al. Food selection based on high total antioxidant capacity improves endothelial function in a low cardiovascular risk population. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012;222(1):50-7
9. Webb AJ, Patel N, Loukogeorgakis S, et al. Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite. Hypertension. 2008;51(3):784-90.