Looking to elevate your pre-workout regime? Forget getting caffeinated, the key to a better workout may lie in your veg drawer.
It’s never going to be a surprise to hear that getting as many fruits and vegetables into our diets each day is key to ensuring optimal health. Many of us will have been taught the importance of eating our greens as kids – even if, at the time, we were only doing so in order to get to dessert faster (hey, some of us still think this way).
A plant-packed way of eating goes hand-in-hand with exercise when it comes to our physical wellbeing, but as it turns out, not all vegetables were created equal. At least, not when it comes to optimising our workout routines and muscle power.
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According to a study published earlier this month in medical journal Acta Physiologica, consuming dietary nitrate – the active molecule found in beetroot juice – can increase our muscle force while exercising.
Participants were asked to consume beetroot juice before muscle biopsies were taken at intervals after ingestion and then again immediately after the completion of 60 reps of a knee extensor exercise. Researchers subsequently concluded that skeletal muscle rapidly takes up beetroot juice and this leads to elevated muscle power during exercise.
And though this study is the first of its kind, beetroot juice supplements are already one of the most popular ergogenic (aka performance enhancing) supplements for athletes. Beets are a rich source of potent antioxidants, such as vitamin C, carotenoids, phenolic acids and flavonoids, along with nitrate, a chemical naturally occurring in certain foods and converted into nitric oxide when consumed.
So why might we want more nitric oxide in our bodies? Well, research shows nitric oxide can increase blood flow, improve lung function and act as a signalling molecule, communicating between your cells and body tissues.
This communication ensures more blood flow to the muscle and that adequate oxygen is absorbed into the muscle itself – a winning combination for athletes and sports professionals who use beetroot and beetroot supplements to enhance both endurance and performance. In short, it’s one powerful little vegetable – and you don’t need to be a full-time sports professional to benefit from it.
All the benefits of eating more beetroot
Nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr agrees: “Beetroot is often considered a superfood thanks to its richness of nitrates, fibre, antioxidants and nutrients including folate, manganese, vitamin C and iron,” she tells Stylist.
“When it comes to muscle power and exercise performance, beetroot is a wonder food, helping to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles, potentially resulting in improved exercise performance.”
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And the advantages don’t just stop at exercise (though we don’t need much more convincing than that, let’s be honest). “Beyond the benefits of beetroot for muscle power and physical performance, the vegetable has been shown to help lower blood pressure by improving blood flow and relaxing blood vessels, aiding digestion thanks to its fibre content and supporting natural detoxification from betalain, a compound found in beetroots that can support liver function,” Lenherr explains.
So, now that we can all confidently declare ourselves to be big beetroot fans (not that we weren’t before), how exactly do we get more of it into our diets so that we can reap the benefits?
How a nutritionist packs beetroot into her diet
The great news is that beetroot is a really versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw, baked, boiled, juiced or blended to create any number of delicious dishes. “Beetroot isn’t just for juicing or salads,” Lenherr says. “I love to use beetroot as a slaw, a side veggie and even to naturally colour foods (perfect for making pink foods for your little ones, for Valentine’s Day or just to jazz up a plate).”
Here, she talks us through exactly how to incorporate the root vegetable into each (and every, if you so fancy) meal of the day.
Juice: Juice fresh beetroot into a refreshing morning juice as a nutritious and convenient option.
Smoothie: Add fresh beetroot to a smoothie for a vitamin boost. Pair with a tablespoon of almond butter, a handful of spinach, frozen blueberries and blend with unsweetened almond milk.
Salad: Add raw beetroot into a salad for a crunchy texture and earthly flavour.
Soup: Use cooked beetroot in a soup for added nutrients and flavour. Top with feta or, my favourite, Nush dairy-free spread, for the perfect pairing.
Pickle: Pickle beetroot for a tangy snack or a crunchy addition to salads and sandwiches.
Roast: Roast beetroot in the oven and glaze with balsamic vinegar for a vibrant side dish to fish or roast chicken.
Chips: Slice raw beetroot and bake in the oven as an alternative to potato chips.
Risotto: Use blended beetroot in a risotto for a colourful and nutritious twist.
What about beetroot powder?
If you’ve reached this point and are thinking, ‘But I hate beetroot,” don’t worry – this isn’t the end of your super-charged muscles dream. You might already have googled ‘beetroot powder’ and found that this highly concentrated form contains many of the same nutrients as fresh beetroot.
Before you press that ‘buy now’ button though, Lenherr warns that nutritional content for beetroot juice products may vary depending on the processing method and storage conditions. “Usually beetroot powder is made from dehydrated, ground beetroot but this will vary depending on the brand,” she explains.
“To ensure the quality of the product, go for beetroot powder from whole beetroots. This type of powder is made by dehydrating and grinding whole beetroots into a fine powder. This method preserves more of the fibre, nutrients and flavour of the beetroot than getting powder from the juice of a beetroot. And ideally opt for freeze dried over air or heat drying as this helps retain more nutrients.
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“Beetroot powder can also make a great natural food dye for a pop of colour and earthly flavour. I love to use it in my favourite gluten free red velvet cake,” Lenherr adds.
Keep in mind that beetroot and beetroot products can turn urine and poo pink or red (something you’ve likely noticed if you’re already a keen beet eater). It may be slightly alarming at first, but it’s a totally harmless side effect.
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