In my constant quest for marginal gains I was very interested to hear of the possible improvements to be gained from beetroot. I've always been fan of the purple vegetable in cheese sarnies, but had no inkling that it might make me faster. It turns out that I would need a fairly large number of those sarnies to make a discernible difference, but luckily, Beet It Sport have a number of products to help bring the gains without the abdominal pains. I have been trying their latest offering - Beetroot Flapjack - and have to say I am impressed.
The science bit
It’s the nitrate found within beetroot that improves performance. When nitrate is ingested, it interacts with enzymes generated by friendly bacteria in our saliva to generate nitrite. When this encounters body tissue with lower oxygen levels, such as exercising muscles, it is converted to nitric oxide. This creates a number of positive physiological changes in the body, for example, it causes blood vessels to dilate, directing more blood and oxygen to the areas that need it most. This improves the ability of muscle cells to contract and produce more energy, boosting strength and endurance. It is important to note that mouthwash or toothpaste kill the friendly bacteria needed for the conversion to nitrite - don't use Beet It straight after cleaning your teeth.
How much is needed?
Research from Exeter University indicates that between 400mg and 800mg of nitrate should be taken 1 to 6 hours before riding. It’s worth experimenting in advance of an important event - have too much and it might upset your stomach. Beet It Sport Shots contain 400mg of nitrate. I've been using them for the past couple of cyclocross seasons before races and have found them to have no untoward side effects (apart from pink urine!). The flapjacks contain 200mg of nitrate per bar.
Raising the Bar
So what about the Flapjack Bars? They are quite small - just 9 x 3cm - so easy to carry and quick to eat. Despite this compact size, they pack in a decent 154 kcal, so provide a reasonable boost mid-ride. I like the taste of them - not too sweet and without an overpowering beetroot flavour. There is a good oatiness to the bars. I sneakily tested the bars on my unsuspecting beetroot-hating daughter. Although I'm not worried about her stealing bars from my stash in future, she did not detect the presence of the purple veg! Most people I got to the test the bars found them OK, but it would be worth trying before buying a full box. Personally I would prefer them to energy gels and tried them during my recent attempt at the Three PeaksCyclocross Race. The moistness of the bars meant I needed less of my precious water supply to wash them down than with Clif Bars. This cyclocross season I've been using them before races - one first thing in the morning, one on arrival at the course - and had no ill effects. Do they make me go faster? Hard to say - there is so much that contributes to a good (or poor) performance. The evidence does seem convincing though and if I believe they are going to work, then that is probably half the battle. Marginal gains indeed!