When I hear the word “juice” I usually don’t love the idea. Yes, juicing can contribute a couple
servings of fruits and veg to your day, BUT it can also contribute a hefty sugar load. While
athlete’s can usually tolerate more concentrated carb sources due to their higher levels of
physical activity, juicing still has its downsides. Juices tend to spike blood sugars, may cause
gastrointestinal discomfort, lack fibre, and tend to be more expensive.
All that being said lab studies looking at the effects of specific juices and their impact on athletic
performance and recovery has sparked my interest. Beetroot juice and tart cherry juice are a
couple on trend that I have been keeping my eye on.
So what does the current evidence say on these rich coloured beverages and is it worth a try?
Beets are high in naturally occurring nitrates which the body converts to nitrite and then to nitric
oxide. Once in the bloodstream, nitric oxide widens blood vessels, aids blood flow and lowers
blood pressure. So, since beetroot juice increases levels of nitric oxide, studies have looked at
supplementation as an ergogenic aid, showing promise in its ability to increase blood flow, gas
exchange, mitochondrial efficiency, and muscle contraction.
While there is still some question as to how much beet supplementation is needed for improved
athletic performance in practice, there is evidence of benefits on cardiorespiratory endurance by
increased efficiency, increased time to exhaustion, and improvements in cardiorespiratory
performance at high anaerobic thresholds. Although I am usually not a proponent of juicing,
some of the studies show that the beetroot juice is more beneficial than the beetroot itself for its
ergogenic effects. This is likely because juices themselves are more concentrated, but including
more of either in your diet can’t hurt!
You may have noticed the vibrant reds, purples, and yellows of beets and cherries. As a rule,
the more colourful your fruit or vegetable the higher it is in vitamins and minerals. Beetroot and
cherries are high in B vitamins like folate, vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, copper, and
manganese. These are important for athletes and non-athletes alike as they play a role in
immune function, energy and electrolyte balance, metabolism, and wound healing.
It’s becoming known that antioxidants and phytochemicals are associated with anti-inflammation
and improved immunity; they also work to block the damage caused by oxidative stress which is
higher long distance and high impact athletes. Beets and therefore beetroot juice, as well as tart
cherry juice are showing promise in studies looking at foods and effects on recovery and
inflammation. While more research is warranted to make conclusive statements about their role
as performance enhancers or recovery supplements, based on the current evidence it’s
reasonable to trial beetroot or tart cherry juice in an athlete’s nutrition regimen and test its
effects. They may also be a useful addition to the diet of those suffering from high blood
pressure, joint pain, or arthritis.
In conclusion the research does suggest some health and performance benefit to
including beets, and beetroot juice in your diet. Their high nitrate content, make them
a unique food supplement with evidence of improved vessel dilation, blood pressure,
and blood flow, so I say why not add to the athlete’s plate! Tart cherry juice seems to
need further research, but there is evidence to support its benefit on recovery and
inflammation. Both juices provide natural sugars making them a healthy and easy-to-
digest form of carbohydrate fuel, they are also loaded with water so you get your
hydration covered. Their combo of potassium, aiding in electrolyte balance, and their
clear anti-inflammatory properties, make them both safe, interesting, natural food
supplements to keep your eye on.
By: Debora Sloan, Clinic Nutritionist