LONDON – When Chris Carver ran an ultramarathon in Scotland last year, which challenges athletes to run as far as possible within 24 hours, he ran 140 miles.
Carver added something extra to his training regime this year: beetroot juice. For a week before the race, he drank the dark purple juice every day. Last month, Carver won it by running 148 miles.
He said more exercise would have improved his endurance, but to get the same result he attributes to the juice – an extra eight miles – it would likely have taken an entire year.
In two studies conducted at Exeter University on 15 men, Stephen Bailey and colleagues found cyclists who drank a half-liter of beetroot juice several hours before setting off were able to ride up to 20 percent longer than those who drank a placebo blackcurrant juice.
By examining the cyclists under a scanner that analyzes how much energy is needed for a muscle to contract, Bailey and colleagues discovered beetroot juice allows cyclists to exercise using less oxygen than normal.
“The beetroot juice was effective even without any additional training,” Bailey said. “It reduces the energy requirements on your muscles so you can last longer.” While the beetroot juice was provided free by its manufacturer, Exeter University paid for the research.
Bailey said the high nitrate content of beetroot juice is responsible for its athletic benefits. Bailey said the same effects might be possible if people ate more nitrate-rich foods like beetroot, lettuce or spinach.