Monday, July 22, 2013

Does beetroot juice do anything more than make you piss a rainbow?

Many readers have probably heard about beetroot juice by now. There are claims it can boost athletic performance in certain scenarios. I won't regurgitate the science and pseudo-science behind it. Alan McCubbin has a nice summary here.

I first learned of it when Todd Wells blogged about it a couple weeks ago. This is what he said:

When I had to pee for USADA after the race it was bright red from the beet juice I drink before the race. The doping control officer said everyone’s pee is red now since everyone drinks beet juice. It use to be an advantage to drink it because not everyone knew about it’s benefits, now if you’re not drinking it you’re behind the ball. Glad Biotta makes a juice that doesn’t mess up my stomach.

Mark Cavendish coined the hashtag #pissingrainbows when he tweeted:

Doesn't matter how often it happens, taking a pee the day after drinking beetroot juice will always freak you out!!

I started reading into this a bit. Some of the first studies seemed promising. 6% power increase for 30 minutes?! That's like almost two minutes on Mt Ascutney. I told BrettR about it. He said he hates beets. That didn't stop him from going out and buying some Beet-It brand beetroot juice from a local health food store. Anything for an edge...

Ok, that upped the ante.  I found a Nashua area health food store that carried the Biotta brand beetroot juice. Fortunately, I like beets. I had read the taste of beet juice can be pretty awful, and some brands spruce it up with a little apple and carrot juice. Allen Lim makes his own this way.  Brett said Beet-It was awful, had to hold his breath to drink it. The crazing things we do. Beetroot juice is the new Kool-Aid, and we were drinking it, literally.

I figured it could not possibly hurt. The Biotta juice was organic and had the juice of three beets. No other ingredients. I probably eat three beets when I have them for supper.

The idea is to drink the stuff about 2.5 hours before your event so it can enter the small intestine and get absorbed. It is low calorie. I decided to try it for the Mt Ascutney hillclimb race this past Saturday. I like to be well hydrated for any race, so why not drink a 500ml bottle of beet juice on the way to the race? Way healthier than Gatorade.

I found the taste going down mildly sweet with a funky, earthy aftertaste. I suspect the aftertaste is what turns most people off. I didn't have any trouble finishing a 500ml (16.9 ounce) bottle in thirty minutes. Expensive hydration, if it does nothing more, as a bottle of Gatorade is less than a buck at Sam's club, while the Biotta beet juice is over $7 a bottle.

So did it work? I dunno. I was 30 seconds slower on Ascutney than the year before, which was 30 seconds slower than the year before that. I'd say I'm falling right on that 1.5% per year trend that Eric Brandhorst determined from years of Mt Washington data. If the beetroot juice did anything, you'd think I would have at least bucked that trend a little bit. It was warm this past Saturday though, and Brett suggested the massive ride we did the previous weekend was still pulling us down. Yeah, he didn't think the juice juiced us up either. If it were really that good, WADA would ban it, ha-ha.

Later studies with more elite caliber athletes produced mixed results. Perhaps it works only with poorly conditioned athletes, not those that train rigorously year-round. Yet elite teams are still drinking beet juice. They probably have data that supports its efficacy. I have another bottle I'll use before Mt Equinox in two weeks. I may pick another bottle up for Mt Washington too. If I had a juicer, I'd just press my own juice for dirt cheap.

Oh yeah, you do piss a rainbow.  I stopped at Starbucks on my way home from Ascutney, finally back on top of my hydration after a hot climb.  I couldn't decide if it was red, burgundy, violet or iridescent pink with shades of orange. I've eaten enough beats to not freak out over it.


JB said...

Alex Hutchinson has written some interesting stuff about beet juice. He's worth reading anyway -- very smart and very level headed, with a good eye for what the evidence actually tells us.


Brian B said...

It's what comes out the other side that's scary...I thought I had internal bleeding...but no...just beet juice.

Rob Hult said...

I don't think this does anything. My guess is that it is just the latest diet fad.

Irvin said...

This is awesome!

Unknown said...

I've read that it will lower your bp.