Scientists say beetroot juice ‘significantly increases muscle force during exercise’

If protein shakes or pre-workout drinks don’t agree with your stomach, you’re in luck. Researchers have found that beetroot juice significantly increases muscle force, allowing you to lift heavier weights and perform more reps.

Vegetables such as beetroot are rich in nitrates, chemicals that boost oxygen and blood around the body and have been linked to increased endurance.

Coffee is another powerful stimulant that can aid workouts by stimulating the central nervous system and giving you more energy.

Scientists have suggested that drinking beetroot juice before exercise could enhance muscle performance

In the latest study, experts from Exeter University in the UK recruited ten healthy men in their early 20s.

Scientists have suggested that drinking beetroot juice before exercise could enhance muscle performance (stock image)

They were asked to follow a diet low in nitrates for three days before starting the experiment, such as avoiding leafy vegetables.

They were then divided into two groups, with half receiving a nitrate-rich pre-workout drink of  4.7 fluid ounces (fl.oz.) which researchers said was equivalent to beetroot juice.

The rest were given a placebo drink containing a dummy powder. Both groups were unaware whether they had been given the real thing.

The drinks were indistinguishable in appearance, smell and taste, the researchers said.

Participants then completed a single exercise three hours later after a warm-up.

The movement saw the participants contract their quadricep muscles — the large muscle at the front of the upper leg — 60 times while their dominant leg was attached to the lever of a machine. They had to contract the muscle without moving the leg during the experiment.

Using electrical pulses, researchers measured muscle force, or the force applied by the muscles when they contracted.

They found the torque generated by participants was seven percent higher in the group who had the real pre-workout drink.

Muscle biopsies were also collected from the leg after consuming the drink, and before and after the exercise to check nitrate levels in the tissue.

Scientists found higher nitrate levels in the muscles of people who had received the nitrate drink compared to those who had not.

In the body, nitrates can help dilate blood vessels boosting the amount of oxygen reaching muscles.

Dr Barbara Piknova, a staff scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in the US, said: ‘This study provides the first direct evidence that muscle nitrate levels are important for exercise performance, presumably by acting as a source of nitric oxide.

‘These results have significant implications not only for the exercise field, but possibly for other medical areas such as those targeting neuromuscular and metabolic diseases related to nitric oxide deficiency.’

Dr Andy Jones, a physiologist at the University of Exeter, said: ‘Our research has already provided a large body of evidence on the performance-enhancing properties of dietary nitrate, commonly found in beetroot juice.

‘Excitingly, this latest study provides the best evidence to date on the mechanisms behind why dietary nitrate improves human muscle performance.’

What foods are high in nitrates?

Our muscles need nitrates when we exercise to help them respire, or release energy.

This helps to power the mitochondria — the energy factories in cells — thereby boosting the energy available for contractions.

Scientists suggest that the more nitrates we have available, the better our exercise will be.

Foods that are high in nitrates include:

  • Spinach;
  • Bok Choy;
  • Lettuce;
  • Carrots;
  • Beetroot juice;
  • Ham;
  • Bacon.

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