Do Beets Make You A Faster Cyclist?

Do beets make cycling faster?

Are beets a magical veggie that make your cycling faster?

I love eating beets.  I think they are one of the most delicious vegetables on the planet.  However, I went through a long period of my life where I didn’t eat them.  I liked them as a kid, before I knew how to cook, but then they fell off my radar when I grew up and started doing my own grocery shopping.

Then, the confluence of two powerful events in my life brought them into focus once again.

The first event was losing 50 pounds.  In order to lose the weight I was eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables – and I mean A LOT of fresh fruits and vegetables – Costco-sized portions.  As part of this process, I was actively seeking out new produce to taste and learn how to cook with.

The second key moment was when I stumbled upon an article on the internet about how the Tour de France riders were using beet juice (also called beet root juice) to improve their performance.  I was intrigued.

If it was good enough for Tour de France riders, then it was good enough for me! (Pass me the erythropoietin! …just kidding)

Can beets make you faster?

It can be difficult to find good quality beets at the grocery store sometimes.

The benefits come from the high-levels of nitrates in the beets (It should be noted that high levels of nitrates can be found in other vegetables, like spinach, as well).  I’ve read that it can improve performance by up to 16 percent.  Here are a few quotes from the University of Exeter about how beets help your cycling:

“Results showed that when the cyclists drank ordinary beetroot juice they had a higher power output (measured in watts) for the same level of effort – suggesting their muscles and cardio-vascular system were being more efficient.”

“On average, riders were 11 seconds (2.8%) quicker over the 4km distance and 45 seconds (2.7%) faster over the 16.1km distance.”

“The nitrate has two physiological effects. Firstly, it widens blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and allowing more blood flow. Secondly, it affects muscle tissue, reducing the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during activity. The combined effects have a significant impact on performing physical tasks, whether it involves low-intensity or high-intensity effort.”

Searching for Beet Juice

I immediately headed to the closest Giant Eagle supermarket in search of a big ol’ bottle of beet juice.  But, to my dismay, this was not going to be as easy as I had hoped.  None of the four grocery stores near my house sold beet juice.  It turns out that beet juice is not a very hot item in Columbus, Ohio.

Canned beets are delicious.

Beets are a nutritious vegetable. When I buy them in a can I try to find ones that have zero salt or sugar added to them.

I was able to find some beet juice on Amazon.com, but it seemed fairly expensive.  It was definitely more than I wanted to pay on a regular basis.  What I learned in doing my research was that many companies treat beet juice extract as a health supplement.  Amazon had numerous beet juice powders that you could buy to make your own drink.

I’m not really big on taking supplements.  I reluctantly take a multi-vitamin, but I’m even thinking about giving that up when my 500-count Kirkland bottle runs out.  So, that didn’t really appeal to me.

Some people use a juicer to blend up raw beets, but I don’t own one and wasn’t ready to invest quite yet.  People describe the taste of the juiced beets as very earthy and usually add other ingredients to mask the flavor.

Then, I had this really deep thought.  What if I just ate the beets?  What a novel idea.  It definitely fit into my new diet with all of the fruits and vegetables I was consuming.

But, I had never prepared beets before.  After a little research, I decided that roasting beets sounded easy.  It’s similar to baking a potato.  When you finish roasting them for about 60 – 90 minutes, depending on the size and oven temperature, the skin just falls right off with a brush of your fingertips.  The downside of this process is the purple tint that’s left on your hands.  I guess this could be an upside if you like purple.

I basically just throw beets in a covered casserole dish and cook them in the oven until they are soft.  After that, I remove the skin when they cool.  Here is a video about roasting beets that adds a few more steps to the process but is still pretty easy.

Mmmm….  Roasted beets are deliciously sweet and tender.  Beets are a very love/hate type of food.  I think they are wonderful, but there are a lot of people that refuse to even try them.  My theory is that they conjure up bad memories of being forced to eat canned beets at grandma’s house as a child.

Beets On Salad

Beets are great on salad.

I like to slice raw beets and use them on my salads. Here they blend nicely with salmon, almonds, portabello mushrooms and mixed greens.

Sometimes you just can’t wait for the 90 minute roasting process to eat your yummy beets.  My riding buddy, Cory Knight, grows beets in his garden.  I admire him for this.  That right there makes him one of the coolest guys I know.  He was telling me that he cuts up his beets straight from the ground and puts them on a salad.

I had never eaten a raw beet and I was curious how it would taste.  Luckily Giant Eagle sells those, so I picked up a few and took them home for a salad party.  I thought they tasted great.  They aren’t nearly as sweet as roasted beets.  They have a light sweetness and are crunchy like a carrot.

If you don’t want to eat them on their own, then having them on a salad is a great option.

One other advantage to eating them raw is that they may have more of the performance-enhancing nitrates.  Cooking has been shown to reduce nitrates in vegetables.  This is why juicing and powdered extracts are popular means of consumption for beets.  It’s also why eating raw beets is now my preferred method.

Canned Beets in a Pinch

Canned beets aren't too expensive.

At 79 cents per can, beets can be a fairly cheap snack.

Canned beets are the like the McDonald’s of the beet world.  They are convenient and still magically delicious, but maybe not the ideal form of consumption.  Unfortunately many companies add large amounts of salt and sugar to their canned beets.  Plus, the cooking process has probably removed a lot of the nitrates.

That being said, I still eat canned beets.  Frankly, I just think they taste great.  When I shop, I prefer to buy beets with “No Salt Added.”

Many times last year I would pop open a can of beets for breakfast before a big bike race.  Endurance athletes need carbohydrates to perform well, so I figure I might as well eat carbs with some possible added side benefits.

Do They Make Me Bike Faster?

James Knott finishes the race at Mohican Cabins.

James Knott finishes the OMBC race at Mohican Cabins.

I honestly have no idea.  Each mountain bike race is so unique, that it is impossible to isolate this one small factor.

I started eating beets last year and it coincided with my fastest race times ever.  But, I also lost 45 pounds and completely changed my training regimen, both of which were much bigger factors in my performance.

What I can tell you is that eating beets has become a fun pre-race ritual.  I enjoy eating beets and feel that there are some positive mental side effects to knowing that they may improve my performance.  Plus, it gives the guys on the race team something to joke about.

But, my favorite part of the ritual usually occurs about an hour after the race.  These races usually make me very dehydrated and it takes a while before my bladder reaches full capacity.  But when I finally have to go to the bathroom there is a bright purple stream of urine flowing from my body.  The first time this happened it really freaked me out.  I didn’t know what was happening and I definitely didn’t expect it.

But now I know…  It’s proof that the power of the beets has been coursing through my veins.  There was beet power in every pedal stroke.

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Happy trails,

James

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4 thoughts on “Do Beets Make You A Faster Cyclist?

  1. Compelling arguement, but still gross. Beets, Swiss Chard, Lima Beans, straight up Okra (not in a rue) are all on my personal banned list, so we will have to agree to disagree. Then again, something needs to balance out your Wendy’s post race food! You know why their Wendy’s burgers are square-because Wendy’s does not cut corners (their words not mine).
    J

    • You are missing out. Beets are the best. Give them another try or try them in a different form than you are used to. Are you going to the Wilds this weekend?

  2. I literally just got home from the store on a trip to buy beets to juice. I didn’t know they could actually improve my performance, pretty sweet!

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