The Beet Down
Bust free radicals, boost nitric oxide production, and get back to your roots with one of nature’s best kept secrets.
Beets. For many fighters, they’re one of those love ’em or hate ’em type foods. If you love them, you’ve come to enjoy their unique earthiness and vibrant color they bring to the plate. If you hate them, memories of strange cold soups and pickled salads from your grandmother’s kitchen may pop into your head at their mention. They may look dirty and visually unappealing next to other produce, and
they do require a little extra time to prep and store, but even the haters may change their tune when armed with the knowledge of the general health and sport-specific benefi ts they offer.
A member of the chenopod family (also including quinoa, spinach, and chard), beets are rich in phytonutrients called betalains(betanin and vulgaxanthin) that have been shown to support our body’s detoxification pathways and provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Beets are also rich sources of dietary nitrates—which convert into nitric oxide (N.O.)—betaine, fiber, vitamin C, folate, manganese, iron, and potassium. In addition, beets have been shown to support eye and nerve tissue health, cardiovascular function, blood pressure regulation, and the fi ght against certain cancers. Historically, this alkaline veggie is also known to keep the liver and kidneys working properly and to nourish and purify the blood.
SAY YES TO N.O.
All of the above key nutrients found in beets are certainly of great benefi t to the average person’s quest to stay healthy. For fighters, however, their source of dietary nitrates is the main nutrient responsible for their performance boosting ability.
Recent studies testing the effects of dietary nitrates (beetroot juice) on athletic performance have shown that cyclists who drank 1/2 liter of beetroot juice had increased mean power outputs and were able to ride longer, covering distance faster while using less oxygen, versus those who drank a placebo. Lower blood pressure was also seen in the beet group. In general, the cyclists were able to go harder longer—at a faster clip with a lower oxygen cost. More research is needed, but the results certainly look promising for a sport like MMA, which requires lots of endurance over those 15-25 minutes of action.
So now you want to go harder, longer, faster, stronger—but the idea of chugging two cups of beet juice on a daily basis is less than appetizing to you. Or perhaps you’re sensitive to concentrated sugars—beet juice has 25 grams of carbohydrates per cup (almost all from sugar). Incorporating solid beets (as well as other high nitrate veggies such as spinach, celery, cress, and arugula) into your diet is another way to increase dietary nitrate intake in a more realistic and palatable fashion.
While beets are available year-round, peak season is June through October, so this particular time of year is perfect for experimenting with them in your kitchen. Beets are also versatile, with both the root and its attached leafy greens (similar to spinach in taste and texture) able to make it onto your plate.
The dark red to purple colored roots are what typically come to mind when you think of beets, but they also come in golden hues between yellow and orange, as well as white. Purchase medium- sized bulbs with unwilted vibrant greens. Once you get them home, cut the leaves at the stems, leaving an inch or two of the stem attached to the root. Store them unwashed, root and leaves separate from each other, in airtight bags in your refrigerator. The greens will last a few days, but the roots are good for two or three weeks.
When you’re ready to use them, wash the greens and cook them as you would any dark leafy veggie. A quick sauté with garlic infused olive oil and spices makes a great side dish. The roots, after washing, can be peeled and grated raw onto salads or added to smoothies and fresh juices. Because beets are a potent detoxifi er, it’s best to start slow and mix with other fruits and veggies if using them in your own fresh juices. You can also roast them with olive oil and fresh herbs, such as mint or basil.