Whether you regularly put beets on your plate, or only opt for the occasional beet and goat cheese arugula salad, there’s no denying the recent popularity of this root vegetable. Not only are beets packed with nutrients, but they also offer health and fitness benefits other foods do not. Here’s what you need to know about beets—and how beetroot powder could give your body the boost it needs.
What’s So Special About Beets?
Beets, beetroot juice, and beetroot powders have been popping up in smoothie recipes, pre-workouts, and more in recent years—and for good reason.
For very few calories, beets contain a variety of vitamins, minerals (especially potassium), and antioxidants.
But the real secret to beets’ powers: nitrates. Found in a handful of plant foods, these compounds are converted into nitric oxide, a molecule that dilates blood vessels, says Angie Asche, M.S., R.D., sports dietitian and owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition. “This allows for increased blood flow throughout the body.”
Benefits Of Beetroot Powder
Thing is, you’d have to eat a lot of beets (like somewhere between two and eight) to produce enough nitric oxide to reap real blood flow benefits. That’s where beetroot powder, which is made from dehydrated beets and thus contains higher levels of nitrates, comes in. (Concentrated beetroot juice also offers the same advantage.) Here are five health and fitness perks of the ruby red powder.
1. Strengthens Your Heart Health
When it comes to heart health, beets’ biggest benefit is improved blood pressure. “Dietary nitrates from beets dilate blood vessels, allowing for increased blood flow and therefore putting less stress on the heart to pump oxygen and nutrients throughout the body,” says Kelly Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., nutrition consultant to professional athletes, sports organizations, and fitness clubs.
Keep in mind, though, that eating beets once or twice won’t permanently lower blood pressure; you’ve got to consume beets’ nitrates regularly—and incorporating beetroot powder into your routine is an easy way to do so.
2. Increases Exercise Endurance
While they help keep your heart from working too hard, beets’ nitrates can also help your muscles work harder.
One 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients, for example, found that beet supplementation may improve time-to-exhaustion during exercise. Translation: It may help you work out for longer.
According to Asche, this benefit may stem from nitric oxide’s ability to increase blood flow, which then increases the amount of oxygen delivered to your muscles. Since oxygen is a crucial component in powering forms of ‘aerobic’ or ‘cardiovascular’ exercise—like long runs or bike rides—more oxygen means better performance.
3. Power Through High-Intensity Workouts
Not only do beets’ nitrates help enhance cardio exercise, but they also boost higher-intensity training—like sprints or heavy lifting—that rely on chemicals other than oxygen. Case in point: One 2018 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition study found that beetroot reduced fatigue during high-intensity exercise.
Related: What Happened When I Swapped My Usual Pre-Workout For Beets
Though research has yet to uncover exactly how beets have this effect, Jones suggests it may relate to beets’ ability to reduce the breakdown of creatine phosphate—a crucial chemical for this type of exercise—during training.
4. Reduces Recovery Time
Along with supporting exercise, the nitric oxide produced by beets’ nitrates can also help speed up recovery. Not only does boosted blood flow mean increased oxygen transport during exercise, but also increased transport of oxygen and other nutrients muscles need to recover after exercise. As a result, your hard-worked tissues get the materials they need to repair.
Research backs this up: One study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, for example, found that supplementing with beets after intense exercise modulated soreness in active guys.
5. Boosts Brain Health
Outside of the gym, beetroot powder may also provide cognitive health benefits, especially for older adults.
According to one 2011 study published in the journal Nitric Oxide, nitrates may help improve delivery of blood to areas of the brain associated with executive function. (This includes memory, focus, and emotion regulation.)
The theory is that by dilating blood vessels and improving blood flow, nitric oxide also improves oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain, says Jones.
This effect may also benefits the brains of younger populations, but research has more investigating to do.
How To Use Beetroot Powder
Ready to add some ruby red powder to your smoothies or pre-workout shake? If you want to use beetroot to power your workout performance, Asche recommends mixing up and drinking one serving of beetroot powder about 30 minutes before exercising.
If you’re new to using beets or beet supplements before exercise, though, don’t just start chugging away. “Beetroot juice and powder have very distinct flavors and can cause stomach upset in some people,” says Asche. If you plan on using beetroot powder to power a competition—like a running or obstacle race—test it a few times during practice workouts first.
When it comes to overall health benefits, especially heart health, you’ll need to up your intake even more. “Half a liter of beetroot juice (about two cups) per day has been shown beneficial,” says Jones. (That’s the equivalent of eight beets!) To reap similar benefits from beetroot powder, take anywhere between one to four servings per day, depending on the brand.
In addition to eating beets or supplementing with beetroot juice or powder regularly, Jones recommends incorporating a variety of other nitrate-containing vegetables into your diet. Leafy greens, celery, cucumber, celeriac, Chinese cabbage, leeks, fennel, and parsley, all contain naturally-occurring nitrates.
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