Q. Are there benefits of beetroot (beet) juice for exercise performance or heart health? If so, how much would I need to drink to get the benefit?
A. Jennifer Sacheck, PhD, an associate professor at Tufts' Friedman School who specializes in physical activity research, says: "Beetroot juice is currently a 'hot' nutritional supplement for its touted effects both on reducing cardiovascular disease risk and its potential to improve endurance exercise performance. Beetroot is naturally high in nitrate, which is converted to a signaling molecule called nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide has beneficial effects on vasodilation (relaxation and widening of blood vessels, increasing blood flow).
"A review of studies examining the relationship between beetroot juice and cardiovascular disease risk showed a beneficial effect of consuming between 200 and 500 milliliters (about 6½ to 17 ounces) of beetroot juice daily on systolic blood pressure (top number). For exercise performance, enhanced vasodilation translates to increased oxygen and nutrient delivery to exercising muscles. Studies where subjects consumed about 500 milliliters of beetroot juice about 2 hours before exercise had increased performance before reaching exhaustion.
"However, buyer beware: beetroot juice may cause stomach upset, especially in the quantities consumed in these studies, and drinking it may not translate into any perceived benefits in the less-than-serious athlete. For decreasing systolic blood pressure, it makes more sense to eat a variety of naturally nitrate-rich vegetables in addition to beets, such as spinach and other leafy green vegetables, carrots and cabbage. Although we’re often warned against consuming nitrate-treated processed meats due to their association with increased cancer risk, consuming a variety of vegetables naturally rich in nitrate has only been linked with health benefits."