Runner’s continually aim to improve, and once one goal is achieved a new one is quickly set. To reach that new goal runner’s can look at ways to improve training methods and diet. Maybe you can try a different running session, or maybe you are missing that magical performance boosting food from your diet?

That’s were beetroot comes in, well more specifically beetroot juice, the concentrated liquid form of beetroot, which has been shown to promote performance boosting benefits in endurance running. No wonder its become a hugely popular food among elite endurance athletes in recent years.

Numerous studies have concluded that a link exists between a diet high in vegetables and improvements in cardiovascular health due to the high nitrate content in vegetables. Beetroot is also packed with iron, folic acid, and betaine.

All vegetables contain some nitrates, but they are more abundant in beetroot, leafy greens and spinach.

Numerous studies have been carried out to test the effects of nitrates from beetroot juice on endurance improvements. The findings from the studies are very consistent and indicate that after consuming beetroot in its concentrated liquid form, the amount of oxygen required to maintain a given level of moderate exercise decreased, resulting in improved exercise efficiency.

What is exercise efficiency?

Exercise efficiency is the key physiological component that predicts endurance performance, and this determines the speed or power that you can maintain at a particular rate of oxygen consumption. If for a given speed you are able to reduce the oxygen cost of exercise you improve overall efficiency.

Professor Andy Jones who was involved in one study by the University of Exeter, said: “Our study is the first to show that nitrate-rich food can increase exercise endurance. We were amazed by the effect of beetroot juice on oxygen uptake because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training.” Impressive stuff right?

How much beetroot juice should you consume?

Studies have indicated that both consuming beetroot juice over short periods and long periods has a positive effect on exercise efficiency.

Also by increasing your overall dietary nitrates over a longer period it’s advisable to include a mix of solid foods which have a high nitrate content, such as the foods mentioned earlier; beetroot, leafy greens and spinach. The benefit in varying your diet, is that you will also gain the other nutrients these foods contain.

Regarding how much on a given day you should consume, one study carried out to test the effects of nitrates from beetroot juice on endurance improvements used doses of 300 ml, 600 ml, and 1200 ml of beetroot juice. The results indicated that more is better, with the best results coming from the highest dosage.

This study also indicated that peak levels arrive 2-3 hours after consuming beetroot juice, and these levels will remain elevated for about 6 hours, before they start to decrease baselining after about 12 hours. Besides the endurance improvements, as an added health benefit, one study found that blood pressure was lowered within 24 hours in those who drank beetroot juice.

Runners who currently drink beetroot juice before races or long endurance runs have settled on drinking 500 ml, 2-3 hours beforehand. Even though the study mentioned above indicates that more beetroot juice is better, the quantity of 500 ml seems to be the ideal amount because it produced positive results without any negative physical reaction while running.

Beetroot in its natural form can also have a great impact on health. It can be enjoyed raw or cooked, and when blended with carrots, apple and water, makes a delicious juice.