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When beetroot supplementation doesn’t involve nitrates

There’s evidence to suggest that the nitrates in beetroot juice can help improve performance. Are there other components in it that also have an effect?

Study under review: Betalain-rich concentrate supplementation improves exercise performance and recovery in competitive triathletes

Introduction

Athletes are always looking for an advantage over the competition. Dedication and smart training are sure ways to improve, but nutrition and supplementation can’t be discounted. Beetroot supplements are popular due to numerous studies[1] suggesting that one of their main components, nitrates, can improve endurance exercise performance. However, nitrates aren’t the only component of beetroot that could be relevant to athletics.

Beetroot is one of the few vegetables that contains a class of reddish yellow pigments called betalains[2], which have demonstrated[3] antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. High-intensity, prolonged, or novel forms of exercise tend to cause damage[4] to muscle tissue, which in turn can impair[4] athletic performance.

The known role of inflammation and oxidative stress in muscle tissue repair has led to the investigation[5] of numerous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds for reducing muscle damage and facilitating recovery. However, antioxidants that reduce muscle damage during exercise may not necessarily improve performance. Current research[6] on antioxidant use for improving exercise performance is mixed. Some supplements impair performance, some are neutral, and some may be beneficial. These effects are likely contextual: on one hand, antioxidants can reduce muscle damage, but on the other hand, they may impair physiological adaptations to exercise and reduce the value of training.

The reduction of post-exercise inflammation is a particularly interesting effect. Anyone who has ever gone through a difficult week of training or competition knows that the aches and pains that can accompany exercise have a tangible effect on performance on subsequent days. For example, a popular supplement for regulating inflammation, curcumin[7], has been studied[8] in a handful[9] of trials[10] for its ability[11] to reduce muscle soreness and reduce the subsequent decline in performance. Many athletes also use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to cope with muscle soreness, but these have some downsides, so nutritional solutions are worth studying to see if they offer similar effects without side effects.

Evidence to date suggests that beetroot supplementation has a beneficial effect on endurance exercise performance, and this has largely been attributed to the nitrate component. Yet, there is reason to believe that betalains could also be playing a role. In order to determine what effect, if any, betalains have on muscle damage and exercise performance, the study under review investigated the effects of supplementing with a betalain-rich, nitrate- and sugar-deprived beetroot concentrate.

Beetroot is a rich source of nitrates, which are believed to be responsible for beetroot’s ergogenic properties. However, it’s also possible that some of beetroot’s effects can be attributed to other components, such as its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory betalain pigments. The study under review tested whether nitrate-free beetroot, which maintains its betalain component, reduces muscle damage and benefits exercise performance.

Who and what was studied?

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Other Articles in Issue #38 (December 2017)