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.
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.