There were so many contenders for the title of this post that I briefly considered just listing them all as the content. Beet Me Up Scottie, Beeten up, The Beet Goes On… and on and on. I had an unseemly amount of fun beeting around the bush with this title but this being a running blog (from time to time) I decided to bring the beet back to Nike and their constant encouragement to Just Do It. Beet that.
Okay, I’m done. No more beet puns.
Beetroot. I grew up in a world where beetroot was a food that came from a jar. Pickled and neon pink. Eaten only by old people in their sandwiches. I had no idea that the actually grew in Ireland, in the ground and could be eaten in any other form other than pickled and crinkle-cut. I had an inkling, naturally, being a suspicious kid, but I never asked. Much like Santa, I probably feared the answer.
About a month ago, I ate fresh beetroot for the first time and it has been a revelation. I love it! It looks brilliant in all its rich colour and design, it’s a cinch to prepare and it tastes good. I can’t claim that the inspiration was divine or that I happened to be wandering through a fruit and veg market when I saw the most appealing fresh bunch of beets and couldn’t wait to get home and see what I could make with them. Not this time. Hats off to Jamie Oliver and his recent Everyday Super Food, which I got for Christmas and have been experimenting with ever since. Unlike most cookbooks, he really does have some original recipes and ideas in this book and some truly awesome flavour combinations. Jamie has a few great recipes in there for beetroot, which I’ll be sharing in the coming weeks. Or you could just get yourself a copy or borrow one and crack on yourself.
Apart from gastronomic satiety and enjoyment (as if any other reason were needed…) beetroot has garnered something of a reputation as a secret weapon in the armoury of the runner. Claims have been made that it aids recovery, improves oxygen carrying capacity and blood flow efficiency.
The Big Why? Beetroot is high in a compound called nitrates and when eaten, these nitrates turn into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates/ widens blood vessels and affects how efficiently your cells use oxygen. More oxygen and nutrient-rich blood flows freely throughout your brain and body. Maximizing blood flow is important because the trillions of cells that make up your body get cleaned and fed through the nutrients and oxygen delivered by your blood.
Better blood flow and more oxygen-rich blood also helps your muscles work more efficiently– including the heart muscle. When muscles work more efficiently, they don’t burn as much oxygen, resulting in more power with less effort. People report higher endurance levels and faster recovery after exercise. Essentially, beets help you perform at higher levels without getting tired as easily.
By improving blood flow in this way, you’re also taking steps towards lowering blood pressure and simultaneously reducing your risk of heart disease.
There is conflicting opinion on whether or not beetroot actually lives up to the claims being made. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that the high nitrate content of beets “acutely improves running performance” and found that runners given beets went an average of 3% faster than the control group given a placebo. However, Runnersconnect.com considered a number of different studies involving beetroot juice and found that while some found a definitive difference in running performance, others demonstrated no discernible difference.
But hey, one thing’s for sure- eating, drinking or snorting (yes, you can actually get beetroot in powder form now… it’s far from pickled, crinkle-cut in a jar these kids were raised…) beets are not going to do you any harm and at the end of the day, beetroot is essentially still a vegetable, rich in vitamins and minerals (and a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains which provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support), which we can all do with more of. And if it also happens to improve your blood flow, lower your blood pressure and help your muscles, then whopppeee! Yay for our hearts, our running performance and our PBs.
So go ahead. Turn the beet around.