A new study found that drinking beet juice boosts muscle performance by 13 percent.
Researchers were looking specifically at how nitrate-heavy foods, like concentrated beet juice, helped patients with heart failure improve muscle function. The small-scale study found that patients who drank beet juice had improvements in strength that you’d normally see after months of weight training.
Study co-author Linda Peterson told NPR’s The Salt, “we’re seeing these improvements within about an hour and a half to two hours after ingestion. It’s pretty dramatic.”
The study authors were looking at how inorganic nitrate impacts muscle function, and this isn’t the first time researchers have looked at how nitrate can make you stronger. A 2013 study found that this ion may also improve circulation, though a more recent study found no effect. It’s clear that more research is needed, but since nitrate-rich foods like beets and arugula have other health benefits, adding more of them to your diet isn’t going to do you any harm.
The purpose of this research was to help heart patients recover muscle power, but there’s also evidence that healthy people can benefit from nitrate’s effects, especially as we age. In a press release about the study, co-author Andrew Coggan explained, “One problem in aging is the muscles get weaker, slower and less powerful. Beyond a certain age, people lose about 1 percent per year of their muscle function. If we can boost muscle power like we did in this study, that could provide a significant benefit to older individuals.”
Unlike pharmaceutical solutions to muscle loss, the researchers did not find any side effects to drinking beet juice concentrate.
The same study authors have also looked at how nitrate impacts performance in athletes. Their results suggest that beet juice and other nitrate-rich foods might give athletes a performance edge.
How it Works
When you ingest nitrate, your body turns it into nitric oxide, a compound that supports muscle function. There’s research suggesting that this compound not only boosts strength but improves heart health.
This change actually happens in your mouth. Good bacteria right on your tongue convert nitrate into the nitric oxide that fuels your muscles. Your body actually produces nitric oxide when you work out, which is why you get that temporary boost from eating foods containing nitrate.
Want to get more nitrate into your diet? These are some of the healthy, nitrate-rich foods that the study authors suggest:
- beet juice
Of course, beet juice isn’t going to replace a workout, but if you are planning a strenuous workout or have an active day ahead, you might want to skip the artificially-flavored energy drink and reach for the healthy, nitrate-heavy foods and drinks above for a natural boost.