Drinking Beetroot Juice Before Exercising Boosts Brain Performance

A number of studies have shown that physical activity can have positive effects on the brain, particularly in later life. New research has found that it may be possible to bolster these effects, simply by drinking beetroot juice before exercising.
[Beetroot and beetroot juice]
Researchers suggest that drinking beetroot before exercising may aid brain performance for older adults.

Researchers found that older adults who consumed beetroot juice prior to engaging in moderately intense exercise demonstrated greater connectivity in brain regions associated with motor function, compared with adults who did not drink beetroot juice before exercising.

The research team – including co-author W. Jack Rejeski of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC – says that the increased brain connectivity is seen among the adults who drank beetroot juice was comparable to the connectivity seen in younger adults.

Rejeski and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A.

Beetroot – often referred to as “beet” – is a root vegetable best known for dominating plates of food with its bright purple juice. In recent years, beetroot has gained popularity for its potential health benefits, which include reduced blood pressure and increased exercise performance.

Such benefits have been attributed to the high nitrate content in beetroot. When consumed, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which studies have shown can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain.

Studies have demonstrated that exercise alone can benefit the brain. For their study, Rejeski and team set out to investigate whether beetroot juice might boost the brain benefits of physical activity.

Beetroot juice helped strengthen brain’s somatomotor cortex

The study comprised 26 participants, aged 55 years and older, who had high blood pressure. None of the participants engaged in regular exercise, and they were taking up to two medications to help lower their blood pressure.

All subjects were required to engage in 50 minutes of moderately intense exercise on a treadmill three times per week for 6 weeks. One hour before each session, half of the participants consumed a beetroot juice supplement containing 560 milligrams of nitrate, while the remaining participants consumed a placebo low in nitrates.

At the end of the 6 weeks, the researchers measured participants’ brain functioning using MRI.

The team found that subjects who consumed the beetroot juice supplement prior to exercising demonstrated a structurally stronger somatomotor cortex – a brain region that helps to control body movement – compared with participants who consumed the placebo.

Furthermore, subjects who drank the beetroot juice supplement also showed greater connectivity between the somatomotor cortex and the insular cortex, a brain region associated with motor control, cognitive functioning, emotion, and other brain functions. Such connectivity is usually seen in the brains of younger individuals, the team notes.

The researchers explain that the somatomotor cortex receives and processes signals from the muscles. As such, physical activity should strengthen this process.

They suggest that beetroot juice strengthens the somatomotor cortex further through its nitrate content; its conversion into nitric oxide boosts the delivery of oxygen to the brain.

“Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body,” says Rejeski.

While further research is required to replicate their results, the researchers believe that their study suggests that what we eat in later life may play an important role in brain health and mobility.

“We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain. But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beetroot juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults.”

Beetroot: Health Benefits

Beetroot, also known as a beet, has been gaining in popularity as a new super food due to recent studies claiming that beets and beetroot juice can improve athletic performance, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow.

New products incorporating this highly nutritious food are appearing everywhere, and they include juices and drinks.

Beetroot or table beets are from the same family as sugar beets, but they are genetically and nutritionally different. Sugar beets are white in color and commonly used for extracting sugar and sweetening manufactured foods. Sugar cannot be obtained from beets, which are mostly red or gold in color.

Health benefits of consuming beetroot

Beetroot
Beetroot has been gaining in popularity as a new super food.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Many studies indicate that eating more plant foods, like beetroot, decreases the risk of obesity, overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

Heart health and blood pressure: A 2008 study published in Hypertension examined the effects of ingesting 500 milliliters of beetroot juice in healthy volunteers and found that blood pressure was significantly lowered after ingestion.

Researchers hypothesized this was likely due to the high nitrate levels contained in beet juice and that the high nitrate vegetables could prove to be a low-cost and effective way to treat cardiovascular conditions and blood pressure.

Another study conducted in 2010 found similar results, concluding that drinking beetroot juice lowered blood pressure considerably on a dose-dependent basis.

Dementia: Researchers at Wake Forest University have found that drinking juice from beetroot can improve oxygenation to the brain, slowing the progression of dementia in older adults.

According to Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest’s Translational Science Center, blood flow to certain areas of the brain decrease with age and leads to a decline in cognition and possible dementia. Consuming beetroot juice as part of a high nitrate diet can improve the blood flow and oxygenation to these areas that are lacking.

Diabetes: Beets contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which may help lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.

Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown a decrease in symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy in people with diabetes.

However, a meta-analysis suggests that the benefits of alpha-lipoic acid for symptomatic peripheral neuropathy may be restricted to intravenous administration of the acid.The authors conclude: “It is unclear if the significant improvements seen after 3 to 5 weeks of oral administration at a dosage of more than 600 milligrams a day are clinically relevant.”

Digestion and regularity: Because of its high fiber content, beetroot helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.

Inflammation: Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in beetroot that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.

Exercise and athletic performance: Beetroot juice supplementation has been shown to improve muscle oxygenation during exercise, suggesting that increased dietary nitrate intake has the potential to enhance exercise tolerance during long-term endurance exercise. The quality of life for those with cardiovascular, respiratory, or metabolic diseases, who find the activities of daily living physically difficult because of lack of oxygenation, could be improved.

Beetroot juice improved performance by 2.8 percent, or 11 seconds, in a 4-km bicycle time trial and by 2.7 percent, or 45 seconds, in a 16.1-kilometer time trial.

Nutritional breakdown of beetroot

Beetroot and beet juice are good sources of various nutrients.

One cup of raw beets contains:

  • 58 calories
  • 13 grams of carbohydrate, including 9 grams of sugar and 4 grams of fiber
  • 2 grams of protein

Depending on the brand, a 296-milliliter bottle of beet juice can contain:

  • 44 calories
  • 11 grams of carbohydrate, including 1 gram of fiber and 8 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of protein

It is important to check the label of packaged juices, however, to check for added sugars.

Beetroot provides 1 percent of the daily needs for vitamin A, 2 percent of calcium, 11 percent of vitamin C and 6 percent of iron.

Vitamin C, an antioxidant, plays a key role in creating collagen and some neurotransmitters, and in the metabolism of proteins. Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, the protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues. It is needed for growth, development, and cell function. A lack of iron leads to s certain type of anemia.

It is a rich source of folate and manganese. It also contains thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, choline, betaine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium.

Folate is important for a healthy metabolism encourages healthy skin and hair, and protects the mouth from soreness and ulceration. Folic acid is recommended during pregnancy and studies suggest that it contributes to a healthy birth weight and prevents congenital heart defects and other problems such as neural tubal defects in the newborn.

Manganese occurs in small amounts in the body, but it is needed for a range of functions. A lack of manganese can contribute to infertility, bone malformation, weakness, and seizures.

Beets are high in dietary nitrate, which is believed to benefit the cardiovascular system and may protect against cancer.

How to incorporate more beetroot into your diet

Beets can be roasted, steamed, boiled, pickled, or eaten raw.

Beetroot salad
Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
  • Make your own beetroot juice by peeling beetroot and blending with a combination of fresh orange, mint and pineapple or apples, lemon, and ginger. Blend and strain.
  • Grate raw beets and add them to coleslaw or your favorite salad.
  • Top roasted beets with goat cheese for a perfect pairing.
  • Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
  • Slice raw beets and serve them with lemon juice and a sprinkle of chili powder.

When choosing a beetroot, make sure it is heavy for its size and without surface damage. If the green tops are still on, they should look fresh, not wilted. These are also edible.

Beetroots are not only red. There are also golden beets and white beets. They are widely available in grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

To store beets for a few days, refrigerate them in a tightly sealed bag.

If you grow beetroot and need to keep them for longer, cut off the leaves and stalks, leaving about 2 inches of length. Keep them in a box of sand in a garage or shed, somewhere that is cool but frost-free.

Potential health risks of consuming beetroot

If improperly stored, nitrate-containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite and contaminate the juice. High levels of nitrite can be potentially harmful if consumed.

A high-nitrate diet may interact with certain medications such as organic nitrate (nitroglycerine) or nitrite drugs used for angina, sildenafil citrate, tadalafil, and vardenafil.

Drinking beetroot juice may cause red urine or stool.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.