They’re probably not a staple food in your diet, unless you hail from Eastern Europe and you crush bowls of borscht (beet soup) on the daily. This deep red root vegetable has been receiving a lot of attention recently from the elite endurance crowd (Olympic marathoners and XC skiiers are big fans), after recent studies have shown some very promising results (here, here, and here).
So what makes beets so special? I’ll give you a hint. The same performance-boosting compound in beets is found in bacon as well. If you guessed nitrates, you’re bang on. Wait, WHAT!? Aren’t nitrates those nasty cancer-causing chemicals we’ve been told to avoid like the plague? Actually, turns out that’s not the case, especially when coming from a vegetable source (another myth bites the dust).
What does happen when we consume nitrates from concentrated sources (like beets), is that they get converted into nitric oxide by our body. So what does this have to do with endurance-boosting, you ask? Nitric oxide dilates our blood vessels to allow for more efficient blood flow throughout our body, resulting in a decrease in the demand for oxygen when we’re exercising. In other words, we can run longer without feeling tired. How awesome is that?
IMPORTANT CAVEAT: Now, before you go on adding beets to every meal thinking you’ll be transformed into an untiring running machine, know this. When it comes to consuming beets for performance benefits, it’s all about the dose and the timing. The studies have shown that to get the best boost from beets, consuming roughly 500 ml (2 cups) of beet juice (or 2 large beets), 2 hours before racing or training does the trick.
At the end of the day, the most effective way to improve your endurance and running capacity is to train. But if you’re looking to stack all the odds in your favor, adding in some pre-race beets is a simple and powerful endurance hack that will help turn you into an obstacle course racing machine.
Beets are a rich source of phytonutrients called “betalains” which possess strong anti-inflammatory and detoxification support for your body.
The ancient Romans ate beets to get themselves fired up for romance. Turns out they weren’t crazy. Modern science tells us that beets are full of boron, an element that aids in the production of sex hormones.
How to Cook Beets
Eat Them Raw
Beet and Carrot Coleslaw
180 calories per serving
- 2 medium beets
- 1 large carrot
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 1 TBSP red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Peel beets and carrot.
- Coarsely grate beets and carrot into bowl.
- Pour olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper onto grated beets and carrot.
- Mix thoroughly, serve, and enjoy!
If you’re looking for an easy and tasty way to incorporate beets into your diet, try baking them. When in doubt, add fire.
Spartan Baked Beets
150 calories per serving
- 4 medium beets
- pinch of sea salt
- drizzle of olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Rinse beets and wrap each beet in tin foil.
- Bake for 45 minutes, checking for tenderness with knife.
- Remove from oven with oven mitts, unwrap tin foil, and rinse under cold water.
- Pull skin of beets off under running water (should come off pretty easily).
- Dice beets into quarters or slices, drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and serve!
Find more about beets by Andrew Thomas here.