I was recently asked by a popular magazine to list five ingredients that are particularly beneficial to athletes. While it was tough to narrow down, here are my picks:
1. Beets. Fresh beets are an athlete’s natural medicine, especially when juiced and consumed as a concentrated drink before exercise. Why? Beets are rich in nitrates. Beneficial bacteria in our saliva convert the nitrates to nitrite, and eventually on to nitric oxide elsewhere in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that helps protect the heart and may improve exercise capacity and efficiency. More power is produced with less energy expended, so beets are certainly worth a try.
Just avoid using a mouthwash before drinking beet juice; a strong mouthwash might reduce the beneficial bacteria in the mouth and could possibly lessen the conversion of nitrate to nitrate; a necessary step in the beet benefit process. Beets offer a strong flavor so finding flavor combos that please the palate is a key to regular compliance (investing in a high performance blender will also help). A glass of fresh beet juice a few hours before intense exercise is ideal. Skip the beet pills; they don’t have the same potential as the actual beet root. Concentrated beet powders (without added sugars and fillers) are a convenient and portable back up plan when traveling. These can be easily mixed with water and used about 30 minutes before exercise. (more…)