Drinking beetroot juice before working out makes the brain perform more efficiently, according to a new study, “Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain,” by W. Jack Rejeski, professor and Director of the Behavioral Medicine Laboratory in the Department of Health & Exercise Science at Wake Forest University.
Beetroot is a root crop from Beta Vulgaris, commonly known as Beet or beet plant. A herbaceous biennial plant that merely grow around 120 centimiter in height. This vegetable root crop resembles a bulb-shaped and usually in a deep red color that widely grows in Americas, Eastern Europe and in Asia.
According to professor Rejeski, this is the first experiment to test the combined effects of exercise and beetroot juice on functional brain networks in the motor cortex and secondary connections between the motor cortex and the insula, which support mobility.
The study included 26 men and women age 55 and older who did not exercise, had high blood pressure, and took no more than two medications for high blood pressure. Three times a week for six weeks, they drank a beetroot juice one hour before a moderately intense, 50-minute walk on a treadmill. Half the participants received beetroot juice with 560 mg of nitrate; the others received a placebo beetroot juice with very little nitrate.
Beets contain a high level of dietary nitrate, which is converted to nitrite and then nitric oxide (NO) when consumed. Nitric oxide increases blood flow in the body, and multiple studies have shown it can improve exercise performance in people of various ages.
“Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic, or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body,” Rejeski in a press released.
When you exercise, the brain’s somatomotor cortex, which processes information from the muscles, sorts out the cues coming in from the body. Exercise should strengthen the somatomotor cortex.
So, combining beetroot juice with exercise delivers even more oxygen to the brain and creates an excellent environment for strengthening the somatomotor cortex. Post-exercise analysis showed that, although the study groups has similar levels of nitrate and nitrite in the blood before drinking beetroot juice. The individual who drank beetroot juice had much higher levels of nitrate than those who take the placebo after exercise.
The study was supported by the Translational Science Center of Wake Forest and received funding from the National Institutes of Health. The research team included Paul J. Laurienti and Jonathan H. Burdette of the Department of Radiology; Anthony P. Marsh of the Department of Health & Exercise Science; Swati Basu and Daniel B. Kim-Shapiro of the Department of Physics; and James L. Norris of the Department of Mathematics.
“We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain,” said W. Jack Rejeski, study co-author. “But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beet root juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults.”
While continued work in this area is needed to replicate and extend these exciting findings, they do suggest that what we eat as we age could be critically important to the maintenance of our brain health and functional independence.
This study, “Beet Root Juice: An Ergogenic Aid for Exercise and the Aging Brain,” is published in the peer-reviewed Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.