You can thank beets. By our measure, they were among the first health foods to become trendy. Now, it seems, there’s no restaurant that doesn’t offer a beet-and-goat-cheese salad, an “ancient grain” salad featuring quinoa or farro or spelt (or all of the above) or a kale salad. Or kale in one or all of the previous salads and/or every other dish on the menu.
In general, we’re all for this trend, but we’re mostly all for the trend of beet eating. Why? Well, if you’ve looked at the Supplement Facts label on your preworkout lately, you’ve probably seen betaine, a compound that boosts muscle protein synthesis and promotes strength and power gains — and is found in beets. And now, new research points to even more performance advantages for those who eat beets or take beet extract (also often called beet root or beet juice powder).
Beets are also rich in compounds called nitrates. When consumed, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which of course has significant benefits to blood flow and ultimately muscle growth.
But there's more. In a study published in Cell Metabolism, Swedish researchers gave subjects a nitrate supplement or a placebo for four days and then had them work out on a stationary bicycle. After harvesting and examining some muscle cells, the researchers found that the mitochondria (cells’ powerhouses) worked more efficiently in those subjects who had been given nitrates than in those given the placebo. In short, the nitrate-supplemented mitochondria were able to make more energy using less oxygen.
That may not sound as exciting as hearing that subjects gained 2 inches on their arms or 50 pounds on their bench, but the impact is significant. What it means is that nitrates can help you work out longer with less fatigue. That means more reps, longer treadmill sessions — and ultimately bigger, stronger muscles and less fat.