Beetroots aren't just healthy and nutritious - they can also provide a serious boost to your workouts. According to evidence from the Australian Institute of Sport, the nitrate in beetroot juice significantly enhances athletic performance; particularly at the pro level. (Just try not to get your fix from a greasy 'Aussie' burger.)
To test the physiological and performance effects of beetroot supplements on athletes, researchers from the University of Western Australia and the Institute of Sport compared the time trials of 11 international-level kayakers before and after ingesting a commercially available 70ml shot of beetroot juice.
"In laboratory-based four-minute ergometer tests, the beetroot supplement had a small effect on the distance covered, but was effective in improving the task economy of the male kayakers," chief researcher Dr Peter Peeling explained. "When we used a greater volume of beetroot juice (140ml) among our female participants during a field-based 500m kayaking time-trial, we found there was a meaningful performance improvement of 1.7 per cent."
The performance boost is thought to be caused by the nitrate in beetroot juice which has been shown to improve the efficiency of processes that occur in the mitochondria, which helps to boost energy.
"This means ATP, the molecule known as a cell’s energy currency, can be spared during muscular activity, resulting in a decreased oxygen cost for a given task," Dr Peeling said.
"If you can find a way of reducing the oxygen cost of a given activity, you might improve the ability to withstand the exercise intensity for a greater period of time, or you find a greater level of output for the original oxygen cost."
These minuscule boosts to performance are unlikely to provide any meaningful benefit to average people, but could prove invaluable to pro athletes. After all, the difference between first and second place is often much lower than 1.7 per cent. Don't be surprised if you see a few Aussies with maroon-stained jerseys at this year's Olympics.