Can beetroot make runners unbeatable Chemicals released by the backed vegetable help boost athletes' performance

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UPDATED:

01:30 GMT, 26 April 2012

It seems a most unlikely performance booster but new research suggests beetroot could be the secret to track success at this year’s Olympics.

Scientists have discovered athletes who eat baked beetroot before a race run faster than their rivals.

The purple root vegetable contains high levels of chemicals called nitrates, which have been shown to boost exercise performance.

Performance boost: The humble beetroot when baked has been found to have chemicals which enhance endurance

Performance boost: The humble beetroot when baked has been found to have chemicals which enhance endurance

Researchers at St Louis University in
the US recruited 11 fit and healthy men and women and got them to twice
run five kilometres on a treadmill.

Before the first run, the volunteers consumed a portion of baked beetroot just over an hour before hitting the treadmill.

Before the second run, they ate an
equivalent amount of cranberry relish, chosen because it has a similar
calorific content to beetroot but without the same nitrate levels.

The results, published in the Journal
of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that after eating the
cranberry relish, the runners averaged a speed of 11.9 kilometres per
hour, or 7.3mph.

But after scoffing beetroot, their average speed went up to 12.3 kilometres per hour, around 7.6mph.

Researchers said runners appear to be able to maintain their speed for longer if they have eaten the vegetable.

In a report on their findings, they
said: ‘During the last 1.1 miles of the run, speed was five per cent
faster in the beetroot trial.

Winning: A few slices of beetroot before a big race could be the difference between first and second

Winning: A few slices of beetroot before a big race could be the difference between first and second

‘Consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beetroot improves running performance in healthy adults.’

The findings support earlier research,
published in 2009, by British scientists which suggested drinking
beetroot juice could have a powerful effect on stamina and endurance, as
well as lower blood pressure.

The researchers, from the University
of Exeter and the Peninsula Medical School, also in Exter, recruited
eight healthy young men to complete a series of cycling tests.

They took them twice – after drinking beetroot juice once a day for six days and after drinking blackcurrant cordial.

When tasked with cycling at an easy
pace, the men used less oxygen after drinking beetroot, suggesting their
muscles were able to do the same amount of work while spending less
energy.

When they were asked to cycle for as long as they could before
stopping, the beetroot juice allowed them to pedal an extra
minute-and-a-half before running out of energy.

This 16 per cent increase in endurance
could mean someone who normally runs out of steam after jogging for an
hour would be able to keep going for an extra ten minutes.

It is thought nitrates lead to the blood vessels widening, improving oxygen supply to the muscles.