Beet Juice Better Than Aero Wheels?

Ergogenic aids come and go and what is usually thought of as a breakthrough turns out to be another disappointment.  The idea of nitric oxide as an ergogenic aid is absolutely huge right now in the research.  I thought it was time to finally talk about it – even if it turns out to be a total flop, there is no harm in discussing it.

OK, I’m going to keep this as unscientific as possible. Partly because I don’t want to bore you, but mostly because I barely know what I’m talking about…;)

The big news in the science of sports supplementation in the past year involves – beet juice. More specifically, the high nitrate concentration in beet juice. Nitrate is abundant in vegetables and is converted in the body to nitric oxide. A flurry of studies lately have demonstrated that dietary nitrate reduces oxygen cost during exercise and thus, boost performance.  I have listed two studies below, but there are more.

Study 1: In a double-blind, placebo (PL)-controlled, crossover study, subjects consumed 500 ml/day of either beetroot juice (BRJ) or placebo for 6 consecutive days and completed a series of “step” moderate-intensity and severe-intensity exercise tests on the last 3 days. The oxygen consumption following the onset of moderate exercise was reduced by 19% in the BRJ condition. During severe exercise, oxygen consumption was reduced and the time-to-exhaustion was extended (BRJ 675 sec vs. 583 sec for placebo)

Study 2 (an important one released April 5, 2011): Researchers found a way to take the nitrates out of the beet juice, so they gave the athletes beet juice with nitrates and beet juice without nitrates as a placebo. Drinking 500 mL of beet juice with nitrates 2.5 hours before a cycling time trial improved 4 km TT time by 2.8% and 10 mile TT time by 2.7% vs beet juice without nitrates. In other words, the 4K time trial was 6.26 vs 6.45 min and the 16K dropped as well – 26.9 vs 27.7 min. Some of you may say “one minute for a 16K time trial? That’s not much!) OK, let’s put it in perspective…cyclists pay a couple thousand dollars for aero wheels. As shown on the Zipp wheels data, for a 1080 front and a sub9 disc wheel (total cost about $3200) you can expect to save 108 seconds…over a 40K race! That’s equivalent to 43 seconds over a 16K race, while the beet juice saved people 48 seconds over a 16K race. $3200 for wheels, or down some beetjuice. Hmmmm…….

The effects of nitric oxide have been known for years. There are some effects that we are not quite clear on, such as increasing mitochondrial action in the cells. We do know, however, that it causes vasodilation , or dilating blood vessels. Researchers think that this is how it helps get oxygen to the working muscles more efficiently.

Ironically, that is the same mechanism of action as Viagra. Indeed, pro athletes have already though of this. Roger Clemens was known to have Viagra in his locker, but only for “athletic” performance…not for “other” types of performance. BALCO founder Victor Conte was quoted as saying ” “It’s bigger than creatine. It’s the biggest product in nutritional supplements.” Also, at the Giro d’Italia, Italian police found 82 Viagra pills and syringes in the car of top cyclist Andrea Moletta.

Before you run out and buy beet juice, are there any side effects? Too early to tell, but possibly…you can read more about it here. Also, take it easy on the mouthwash. Yes, you read that correctly – take it easy on the mouthwash. In order for your body to benefit from the nitrates in the beetjuice, you first have to convert the nitrates to nitrites, then to nitric oxide. You need these little critters in your mouth called bacteria to do the conversion. Mouthwash kills the bacteria, hence no conversion. Yes, they’ve actually done studies on this. Read more here.