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Eating properly before a workout helps enhance your energy and performance. While the proper type of food prevents hunger and fatigue, the wrong food can cause digestive distress. Beets are a nutritious vegetable that you can enjoy either raw or cooked. Whether they help you before exercise depends on timing and your body’s needs. However, some researchers report special performance-enhancing results for beet juice.
Nutrients in Beets
Beets are a healthful, low-calorie addition to an athlete’s diet. A 78-gram serving of cooked beets contains only 35 calories and no fat or cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has 2 grams of fiber and 8 grams of carbohydrate, of which 7 grams is sugar. This serving size contributes 6 percent of the daily value of vitamin C for a 2,000-calorie diet. Beets are also rich in the B vitamins niacin, pyridoxine and pantothenic acid and contain potassium, magnesium, iron and manganese.
Advantage of Beets
Beets are an appropriate choice before a workout because of their high carbohydrate content. The sugar and other carbohydrates in beets fuel your body with easily accessible calories for quick energy. As with all foods, time your consumption of beets for best results. If you eat beets as part of a heavy meal, wait at least three hours before exercising, as registered dietician Natalie Digate Muth suggests. If you eat beets or another snack before exercise, wait about 30 minutes before you work out.
Possible Problem with Beets
Some people experience digestive distress if they eat bulky or high-fiber foods before exercise. Beets are high-fiber vegetables with a low-calorie density compared to many other foods. For example, a banana is also a high-carbohydrate whole food recommended by Muth and others as a source of energy. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one extra-small banana has 18.5 grams of carbohydrate and 72 calories, but only 2 grams of fiber. You have to consume a cup of beets to get a similar amount of carbohydrate and energy, but you would get twice the fiber. Muth recommends trying out a food ahead of a race to find out whether it causes digestive problems. If you want to eat beets before a race, try them during a practice session, to avoid any surprises during the real thing.
Press reports on English runner Chris Carver have increased interest in beet juice as a performance-enhancing drink. Carver credited his 2010 win in an ultra-marathon to drinking beet juice daily for a week before the event, according to Maria Cheng in “The Independent.” Cheng also reported on Exeter Univeristy studies on athletes who increased their endurance time as much as 20 percent with beet juice. Cyclists in the study drank 1/2 liter of beet juice prior to exercise. The researchers believe that nitrates in beet juice reduce the oxygen needed for exercise. However, they concluded that beet juice improves racing time by only 1 to 2 percent — not a significant benefit for non-professionals. Drinking a lot of beet juice can also cause purple urine, diarrhea and cramps. Some athletes also find the taste very objectionable.