Everyone needs that extra boost in muscle strength when working out tirelessly in the gym, not to mention athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Fortunately, scientists at the University of Exeter have found that the power boost we seek may be gotten from one simple drink: Beetroot juice!

The findings appearing in the journal Acta Physiologica found that eating nitrates—an active molecule found in beetroot juice—may supply the muscles with extra force during workouts.

While it is no news that dietary nitrates improve physical fitness and endurance, evidence on why this effect happens or even how our body converts nitrates that we eat into nitric oxide for absorption in body tissues is lacking. The researchers then set out to fill this gap.

To do that, the researchers at the University of Exeter involved a total of ten healthy participants having an average age of 23 years for the study. They traced the distribution of ingested nitrates in their urine, saliva, blood, and muscles. After which they were instructed to complete maximal leg workouts. The idea behind this was to figure out where the dietary nitrates accumulate to better understand the mechanisms at work.

An hour after eating a nitrate-rich meal, participants were then made to perform a series of 60 contractions of the quadriceps—the thigh muscle engaged while stretching out the knee—at the highest intensity over five minutes on an exercise machine.

By the end of the study, the study authors observed an accumulation of nitrates in the muscles. They also observed that, unlike those that took the placebo, this nitrate boost led to a higher muscle force of up to 7 percent during the workouts. 

For the first time, findings from this study show that an increase in muscle nitrates following nitrates consumption boosts exercise performance. This is the first study to provide the best evidence so far on the mechanisms behind why this happens.

Prior studies have shown that tissues and body fluid nitrate are increased after ingesting dietary nitrates, commonly found in beetroot juice. And it has been assumed, according to the researchers, that dietary nitrates are directly responsible for this boost.

By using tracers in their study, they were able to accurately track how ingested dietary nitrate is being spread to tissues likewise where it is higher and most active. The study also goes further to show the performance-enhancing properties of the nitrates we eat.

“This study provides the first direct evidence that muscle nitrate levels are important for exercise performance, presumably by acting as a source of nitric oxide,” said  Dr. Barbora Piknova who is a co-author of the study. “These results have significant implications not only for the exercise field but possibly for other medical areas such as those targeting neuromuscular and metabolic diseases related to nitric oxide deficiency,” she adds.

Although it’s worth noting that their study was conducted mostly on a young male population. Researchers suggest that further studies are needed to figure out if the results will be similar for females and older people.

Regardless, here is more reason not to leave home for the gym without a bottle of beetroot juice. Or you can as well opt for beet supplements. Besides making a great gym companion, you could use some extra power boost during every workout session to reach your fitness goals much sooner.

Written by

Medically Reviewed by