Demand rising rapidly for beetroot as ingredient's sports nutrition benefits are proven and popularized

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Demand rising rapidly for beetroot as ingredient's sports nutrition benefits are proven and popularized

Related tags Nitric oxide Sports nutrition

The benefits of beetroot juice for sports nutrition got a big public relations boost recently with the news the Auburn University football team drinks the juice before its games.  As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the team began using the ingredient mixed into their water bottles last year. This year the team is undefeated and ranks No. 5 in national polls.

Auburn's players use Beet Elite sachets produced by Neogenis Sport.  Auburn is one of more than 40 teams that are using the product, according to Tricia Nelson, spokesman for the Austin, TX-based company. A main competitor is Beet Elite, a line of products from UK-based James White Drinks. 

Research backing

A big reason why the two lead the field is they are putting the biggest effort into research, according to Susan Kleiner, PhD. Kleiner is a nutrition expert and consultant and co-founder of her own sports nutrition firm, Vynna LLC which is focused on sports nutrition for women.

“Those two companies have been doing most of the work.  They have been putting their money where their mouth is and they have been doing research to back up the claimed benefits,”​ Kleiner told NutraIngredients-USA.

Beetroot juice has gained signifcant attention in recent years because it contains nitrate. Research has shown that beet juice boosts oxygen uptake during heavy exercise​. The conclusions of a test of simulated rowing​ were a bit less effusive but still tended toward benefit.  The ingredient has been shown to help swimmers​ and was shown to increase cycling time trial performance​.

Past shoddy approach

All of which is good, Kleiner said.  Like many other claims in the sports nutrition field, the science behind trying to target the nitric oxide pathway via supplementation has had a checkered history.  Claims on products often bore little resemblance to the underlying science.

“It seems like forever that we have been investigating how to affect the nitric oxide system. There was all that research in how arginine affects the nitric oxide system. All of that was bogus.  None of those products have been shown to do anything,”​ she said.

“But the beet products have shown much more effect that any of the other nitric oxide products have ever shown. I think these guys have shown that this actually does work.”

Kleiner said that more work needs to be done to complete the beetroot picture.  While the science so far is compelling, in her work on the ground with athletes she isn’t 100 percent convinced.

“I have clients who can’t tell if it does anything and clients who swear by it. In theory it should work, and in fact, ‘under the right circumstances’ it may work.  But we need to find out what the precise parameters under which it can actually make a difference.  For example, we need to make sure you are not using it with something that might be an antagonist,”​ Kleiner said.

“You’d want to make sure you don’t mix it into anything that’s acidic. Then the nitrate would turn into a nitrite and it won’t work,”​ she said.

Kleiner said the precise exercise parameters under which the ingredient is at its most effect are important to know, too.  She has some anecdotal evidence that seems to corroborate the results of the 2013 Liverpool study​.

“I have worked with some athletes that do downhill mountain bike racing. The effects of beetroot juice seem to be  more noticeable for them because they are already at lactate threshold and are trying to boost performance from there,” ​she said.

Rising demand for the ingredient

The rising demand for beetroot ingredients has led Long Beach, CA-based BI Nutraceuticals to highlight the ingredient among its offerings that it will be showcasing at the upcoming Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas. The company will be offering a beetroot powder-acai-raspberry-strawberry lemonade at their booth.

“We know that people have been drinking beetroot juice during exercise and after exercise. We think that the effects of the ingredient are more of a soft claim,​” said Alison Raban, a certified food scientist who works with BI.

“We know there are actives in it and we know that people are getting positive results. Sometimes having really hard data is not as important to our customers.  They know about beetroot’s positive associations,” ​she said.

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Nutrition not drugs

Posted by Donald Spiderman Thomas,

Plant based herbal sports nutrition is the only safe way to go. It's legal and will not destroy your health down the road.
How in the world did the moderators of this page allow someone to advocate that people eat fertilizer. The EPA states the following regarding nitrates and water.

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Correction: Main Competitor is Beet It

Posted by Wesley Hurrell,

You need to correct your last sentence in first paragraph re main competitor

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Its not the beet

Posted by Jim Bartlein,

The beet is just the vegetable sponge that carries the Nitrates, you can save a lot of money and just buy nitrate fertilizer and put it in your beverage of choice. Consuming it in beet juice just makes you feel it is healthy and natural. The first step is knowing the effective dose. Your saliva already starts the nitrite conversion so you need to factor that.

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