How to Use Canned Beets to Improve Athletic Performance

Vegetable nitrates, concentrated in green leafy vegetables and beets, underwent a great makeover a few years ago. They went from being understood as inert substances to having a profound effect on the power plants within our cells, reducing the oxygen cost during exercise. This means they can allow us to bust out the same amount of work with less oxygen. One little shot of beet juice allowed free divers to hold their breath for more than four minutes, or about a half-minute longer than usual. For others, improved muscle efficiency allowed athletes to exercise at a higher power output or running speed for the same amount of breath. I profiled this fascinating discovery in an unprecedented 17-part video series (see below), the longest I think I’ve ever done. That was back in 2012, but what does the new science say? That’s what I cover in my video, Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance.

Most of the studies were done on men, but it works on women, too, including African-American women who are an even more neglected research demographic. Drinking beet juice results in the same workload power outputs using significantly less oxygen. But what about whole beets? They are cheaper, healthier, and found in any produce aisle, but there had never been studies on actual beets… until now.

Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. They gave physically fit men and women a cup and a half of baked beets, which is equal to about a can of beets, 75 minutes before running a 5K. They started out the same, but during the last mile of the 5K race, the beet group pulled ahead compared to the placebo group, who were given berries instead. Though the beet group participants were running faster, their heart rate wasn’t any higher. If anything, they reported less exertion.

Faster time with less effort? They don’t call them block-rocking beets for nothing! 🙂

If nitrates are so good, then why not just take them in a pill? Although dietary nitrate supplements can work, their long-term safety is questionable. Non-vegetable sources of nitrates may have detrimental health effects, so if we want to improve our performance, we should ideally obtain nitrates from whole vegetables. The industry knows this, so instead it markets an array of nitric oxide-stimulating supplements. However, there is little or no evidence of a performance improvement following supplementation with these so-called NO boosters. The evidence is with the vegetables.

How much money can companies make selling beets, though? How about a novel beetroot-enriched bread product? We’ve tried to get people to eat their fruits and vegetables, and where has that gotten us? But, hey! Lots of people eat white bread, so why not have them eat red bread? And indeed it worked: red beet bread brought down blood pressures and improved the ability of arteries to relax and dilate naturally. Bread, therefore, may be an effective vehicle to increase vegetable consumption without significant dietary changes,” because heavens forbid people should have to change their diet to improve their health… 


If you want to put the whole discovery in context and get the detailed mechanism, see my 17-part video series:

How else can we support athletic performance? See

On the other hand, Paleo Diets May Negate Benefits of Exercise.

It’s great that we can improve athletic performance eating a few beets, but what about people who could really benefit from a more efficient use of oxygen? That’s the subject of my video Oxygenating Blood with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables. Also check out Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Hope for Alzheimer’s Patients

In 1901, Auguste was taken to an insane asylum in Frankfurt, Germany, by her husband. She was described as a delusional, forgetful, disoriented woman who “could not carry out her homemaking duties.” She was seen by a Dr. Alzheimer and was to become the case that made his a household name.

On autopsy, he described the plaques and tangles in her brain that would go on to characterize the disease, but in the excitement of discovering a new entity, a clue may have been overlooked. He described arteriosclerotic changes—hardening of the arteries—within her brain.

We typically think of atherosclerosis in the heart, but atherosclerosis involves virtually the entire human organism—our entire vascular tree. One of the most poignant examples of this systemic nature is the link between coronary artery disease, degenerative brain disease, and dementia.

Back in the 1970s, the concept of “cardiogenic dementia” was proposed—dementia generated from the cardiovascular system. Since the aging brain is highly sensitive to lack of oxygen and since heart problems are so common, it was easy to imagine that’s how dementia could result. Now we have a substantial body of evidence that strongly associates atherosclerotic vascular disease with the number one cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. Autopsy studies, for example, have shown that individuals with Alzheimer’s have significantly more atherosclerotic narrowing of the arteries within their brain.

In my Alzheimer’s and Atherosclerosis of the Brain video, you can see what cerebral arteries should look like—open and clean, allowing blood to flow—versus what atherosclerosis in our brain arteries looks like—clogged with fat and cholesterol, closing off the arteries, and restricting blood flow to our brain. It’s really a remarkable compelling comparison—I encourage you to check it out.

What kind of brain arteries do you want in your head?

The normal amount of blood circulating within our brains is about a quart a minute, but we lose about a half-percent a year; by age 65 we may be down 15-20%. This doesn’t necessarily affect brain function since we have a built-in buffer. However, this age-related decline in cerebral blood flow can become critical to brain cell survival if an additional burden further lowers flow. This reduction of blood flow can starve the brain of oxygen, cause silent little mini-strokes and brain atrophy, the cumulative effects of which appear to play a pivotal role in accelerating and augmenting the development and evolution of Alzheimer’s disease.

As shown in Alzheimer’s and Atherosclerosis of the Brain, you can see the vast difference in the amount of atherosclerosis in the arteries that specifically supply blood to critical memory and learning centers of the brain of healthy, non-demented controls compared to those with Alzheimer’s disease. In light of such findings, some have even suggested the disease be reclassified as vascular disorder.

This is good news, though, because atherosclerosis is potentially reversible. These findings were confirmed in two larger studies of more than 1,000 autopsies each, which found the same thing. Atherosclerosis in the brain is significantly more frequent and severe in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

This suggests that strategies proven to delay the progression of artery disease like plant-based diets may be useful for preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, autopsy studies are a little late for that, so to assess the impact of intracranial arterial narrowing on the progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease, researchers followed 400 people with cognitive impairment for four years using CT angiography—special CAT scans that evaluate the amount of brain artery blockage. The cognition of those with the least atherosclerosis in their heads remained pretty stable over the years, but those with more cholesterol buildup got worse and those with the most blockage rapidly declined. The ability to carry on the activities of daily living was also affected, and the progression to Alzheimer’s disease was doubled. An inefficient blood supply to the brain has very grave consequences on brain function.

But does treatment of vascular risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol actually make a difference? We didn’t know, until a recent study of 300 patients with Alzheimer’s. Those with all their vascular risk factors treated showed significantly less decline and slowed progression of their disease, compared with those who went untreated.

It’s been said that the “goal of medicine is to provide patients with hope and when there is no hope, to offer understanding.” Well, for the first time in the history of this disorder, we have the chance to provide Alzheimer’s patients with hope.


If this information sounds familiar, it’s because I featured it in my 2014 year-in-review presentation From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food.

For more on this disease, check out Alzheimer’s May Start Decades Before Diagnosis, Cholesterol & Alzheimer’s Disease, and The Alzheimer’s Gene: Controlling ApoE.

Lifestyle medicine is critical for our body and mind. See:

In fact, NutritionFacts.org started because I saw how lifestyle medicine extended my grandmother’s life far beyond what her doctors expected. See the story in my Introductory Videos.

Blood flow is also important for other critical organs, as I discuss in my videos Cholesterol and Female Sexual Dysfunction and Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

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Do you appreciate my work?

There are some people who will never change, and God bless ’em. If they want to smoke cigarettes, go bungee jumping, it’s their body, their choice. But I think most people are just confused. They want to live long, healthy lives, want to take better care of their families, but are bombarded by billion dollar industries bent on sowing confusion in hopes people will just throw up their hands and eat whatever’s put in front of them. But the good news is that we have tremendous power over our health destiny and longevity—the vast majority of premature death and disability is preventable with a healthy enough diet and lifestyle. The science is in, but it’s being drowned out by commercial interests who may not have our family’s best interests at heart. I hope you consider me a partner in the struggle to get at the truth. Nearly 190,000 scientific papers on nutrition were published over the past year, about 500 a day. Please help us sift through all that science, so you… don’t have to!

Last week, we started our annual end-of-year fundraising drive. Year after year, more than half of our entire annual operating budget has been raised around these final few weeks of the year. So we count on your giving season generosity to make a tax-deductible donation to keep NutritionFacts.org going and growing.

We need to raise more than usual this year, because I need to take the next year off from speaking so I can concentrate on writing my next book, so that loss in speaking honoraria has to be made up in donations. Please “root” for the facts by helping us fill the carrot!

I may be the face of NutritionFacts.org, but there’s a veritable army of staff and volunteers behind the scenes. They help me churn through the thousands of studies a week to stay on top of the science, so we can bring you daily videos and articles on the latest in evidence-based nutrition. This is only possible because of you. Every year, thousands of people step forward and make donations large and small to express appreciation for our work. Hundreds have even signed up to be monthly donors, which helps ensure a predictable steady stream of support. It’s a numbers game; even a single dollar can help.

On the Donate Page you can make a tax-deductible donation using a credit cardBitcoin, transferring stock, or by sending a check to “NutritionFacts.org” PO Box 11400, Takoma Park, MD 20913.

The How Not to Die Cookbook is a Hit!

 

I’m honored to say that the New York Times Review of Books called my new How Not to Die Cookbook their favorite cookbook of the season! Thanks to all your pre-orders we sold more than 25,000 copies on launch day, shooting it to an instant New York Times Besteller coming in at #3! All proceeds I receive from the sale of the cookbook go directly to NutritionFacts.org.

 

New Daily Dozen Posters 

Thanks to the kind donation of Ana Victoria Esquivel’s gorgeous artwork, we now have Daily Dozen posters available. So if the cookbook isn’t enough, and you’re looking for other holiday gifts for the healthy people in your life (or soon to be healthy!), check it out. Perfect for hanging in a doctor’s office. Imagine walking into an exam room and seeing healthy food on the wall!

 

Live Q&A December 28th

Every month now I do Q&As live from my treadmill, and Thursday, December 28th is the day.

  • Facebook Live: At 12:00 p.m. ET Thursday, December 28th, go to our Facebook page to watch live and ask questions.

  • YouTube Live Stream: At 1:00 p.m. ET Thursday, December 28th go here to watch live and ask even more questions! 

You can catch all of my past live YouTube Q&As here and Facebook Q&As here.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: