Over the past decade, nutrition scientists have uncovered several qualities in the humble beetroot that help improve the speed, performance and stamina of endurance athletes.The primary advantage is that it is chock-full of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide by the body. This nitric oxide improves blood-vessel dilation thus increasing the blood flow capacity and lowering the amount of oxygen you require while running. Simply put, you’re now able to use oxygen more efficiently as you run, which translates into more power and stamina for athletes.

But a recent research conducted by the Wake Forest University offers some intriguing insight that a daily shot of beetroot an hour prior to exercise can produce a significant change in the function and organization of ageing brains. Nitrate, which is the key component of beet juice, was previously known to enhance the amount of oxygen reaching the brain, boosting some aspects of cognitive thinking. The new study investigated the combined effects of exercise and beet juice. A group of 26 sedentary men with an average age of 65 were assigned to undertake six weeks of exercise along with daily shots of beet juice or a placebo. All the men had a high blood pressure, making beet juice more beneficial to them.

Being naturally sweet, yet rich in soluble fibre, beetroot is also a great source of energy, providing longer lasting fuel and helping you avoid energy dips.

The juice was administered to the groups in the form of Beet-It Sports shots, which is concentrated beetroot juice that contains 560 milligrams of nitrate in every 70-millilitre bottle.The placebo was just plain beet juice without the added nitrates. The participants timed their daily beet shots exactly an hour before exercise on their workout days. A specific exercise program was assigned to each candidate which included walking on a treadmill three times a week for six weeks, building up until they were doing 50 minutes per session.

With this study, the researchers wanted to deduce the neuroplasticity of the brain, which is the brain’s ability to rewire and revamp itself in response to new stimuli. They were also interested to find out if the physical problems related to ageing reflected as invisible problems in the central nervous system instead of just physical manifestations such as loss of muscle or aerobic fitness. To explore this possibility they used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after the trial, looking at the connection between the different regions of the brain.

The researchers concluded that drinking one shot of beet juice on a daily basis means you have lots of nitrate in your body, which is then converted to nitrate and circulates through the bloodstream. They found that in the final stage when the nitrite is being converted to nitric oxide, the process is enhanced in low-oxygen conditions – similar to the one induced by hard exercise. So when you workout, as areas of your brain (and other places), start to suffer from low oxygen levels, there’s plenty of nitrites that converted to nitric oxide. This helps to relax and dilate the blood vessels to bring more oxygen-rich blood to these sites.

Though many foods claim that when consumed regularly they will bring about a substantial change in your performance as a runner or athlete, beetroot actually lives up to these claims. But don’t just wolf down a glass of juice and expect a miracle without putting in much effort. Like all natural benefits, the performance-enhancing qualities work best when you’re habituated to it, so begin your beet intake and make it a point to add this nitrate-rich food to your daily diet.

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