Beet Boosting Bugs

Are you drinking your beets?

You have likely heard about the performance-enhancing superfood, beetroot. Or maybe you have already incorporated it into your training. Either way, it’s hard to ignore the growing attention paid to beetroot. But how does this dark red root improve your 10k time and are there ways to get more out of your glass of beetroot juice?

The mechanism behind beetroot’s boost lies in nitrates. Nitrates are a chemical compound found in beetroot as well as dark, leafy vegetables. When we ingest nitrates they get converted into nitric oxide (NO). Our bodies use NO in a variety of ways, but NO is the link between beetroot and improved performance.

Jason Houston at BeetBoost explains it like this: 

NO relaxes the muscles by widening blood vessels when it spreads through underlying muscle cells in the arterial walls. This affects how efficiently cells use oxygen — efficient oxygen use is a very good thing — and this is one of the reasons why beetroot juice can be used to support sport performance. 

For an excellent, and more detailed look at this process read InsideTracker’s article .

In order for this process to occur, it turns out that our bodies need a little help from the bugs inside us to get the performance boosting benefits from nitrate. The bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract play a huge role in NO production – from our oral cavity to our colon. The name of this system is a mouthful (pun intended): the entero-salivary nitrate-nitrite-NO pathway. The nitrate in foods like beetroot get broken down by bacteria in the mouth, stomach and small intestine and eventually converted to NO.

We know that bacteria play a pivotal role in NO production throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract based off several studies. In one such study, researchers eradicated the bacteria of the mouth using mouthwash. This effectively destroyed the bacteria in the mouth that help convert the nitrate to NO. Subsequently, they found that NO levels were reduced and the benefits of the nitrate were lost. The take home message here is go easy on the Listerine!

Also, studies have shown that germ-free mice (no bacteria in the gut) do not effectively produce NO. Furthermore, rats supplemented with lactobacilli probiotics in conjunction with a nitrate load resulted in a 3-8 fold NO increase in the small intestine. It is studies like these that have lead researchers to believe that our microbiome plays a key role in the production of NO from dietary nitrate. In fact, it has been theorized that some of the beneficial effects of probiotics might be mediated through NO. 

The studies are fascinating, but inevitably lead to more questions: What is the optimal beetroot/nitrate dose? Would particular probiotic strains plus beetroot, augment the production of NO more than the beetroot alone? Are microbiomes of various dietary patterns more conducive to NO production?

What we do know is this: beetroot improves select performance parameters via NO, and our microbiome plays an integral part in the production of NO. More studies will lead to even better insights, but it is obvious that if you want more out of your beets and sports nutrition, it pays to take care of your gut.

The Top 7 Probiotic Myths

All probiotic supplements are basically the same...

Probiotic supplements can differ in a variety of ways including: the amount of probiotics, the types of strains, the need for refrigeration, as well as the addition of other ingredients like prebiotics. While there isn't a maximum dose that is recommended, most studies are done with at least 1 billion CFU. The majority of studies done on athletes used amounts between 10 and 25 billion CFU. An appropriate amount ensures efficacy of the product. 

It doesn't matter which probiotic strains I take...

It most definitely does matter! There are many different strains of probiotics, and research has shown that they don't all have the same effects. Depending upon why you are taking the probiotics any old product may not be helpful for you. Probiotic studies have focused on athletes, depression, obesity, and multiple other medical conditions and populations, but the probiotic strains that were studied were certainly not all the same. Make sure you are taking one that is right for your needs. If you're an athlete, well, you've found the right place!

I should take as many probiotics as possible...

Consuming a high amount of probiotics doesn't necessarily improve efficacy. While research has yet to determine the ideal amount for any given condition or population, we do know an effective range. When choosing a probiotic it would be our recommendation to find one that has at least 10 billion CFU. 

It's enough to eat fermented food or yogurt...

While we fully support eating a variety of fermented foods (homemade kimchi anyone!?), food may not be the best source of probiotics for someone looking to take advantage of their specific effects. Few foods quantify the amount of probiotics in them, so you don't know how many and what types of probiotics you are consuming. As you learned above, knowing this information is really important if you are using a probiotic supplement for a specific reason. For example, you cannot expect the same benefit from a cup of yogurt as you would from a probiotic supplement designed for athletes.

FOS (fructo-oligosaccharide) is an ideal prebiotic to add to a probiotic supplement...

FOS is a prebiotic commonly used in supplements. However, higher amounts are needed, 4-8 grams per day, for any benefit. That's pretty hard to fit in a capsule! Arguably, the most important reason not to use FOS is that it can cause a lot of flatulence.

Probiotic supplements require refrigeration...

Probiotics are living organisms and die off in time. Recent advances in their production have led to the ability for them to survive longer without refrigeration. However, this isn't a practice for every manufacturer. If not needing refrigeration is important for you, make sure the supplement states that it is not required. The bottom line is this: refrigerating the bottle, although not necessary, will make them last longer, but if it isn't needed you should feel confident your little bugs will be safe outside a cold environment. Also, look for a probiotic supplement with an expiration date rather than "CFU counts are guaranteed at time of manufacture." 

Probiotics should have an enteric coating...

Enteric coatings like those used for aspirin and other drugs do not work with probiotics. For one thing the common polyacrylamide “super glue” coatings, besides having potential carcinogenic activity, actually destabilize the shelf life of probiotics because they cause moisture retention within the product.

There are now new generation delivery systems that employ polymeric carbohydrates such as alginates or pectin. But these are not enteric coatings, they are complex formulations that actually “turn on” once they contact stomach acid. This makes a big difference in the effectiveness of the probiotic supplement.