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Beet Root Juice Benefits Questioned

A recent study shows no improvement in speed or endurance in trained cyclists after taking beet root juice. In May 2011, I reported on research that seemed to show that beet root juice would make you a better athlete. Based on the new data, I now believe that taking beet root juice before competition will not help an athlete race faster or have greater endurance.

THE RATIONALE FOR BEET ROOT JUICE BEFORE COMPETITION: The limiting factor to how fast you can race is the time it takes to bring oxygen into muscles. Beet root juice is a rich source of nitrates. Nitrates widen blood vessels, so theoretically the beet root juice could bring more oxygen into muscles so you could move faster.

THE NEW EVIDENCE: This month, one of the most respected research groups in sports medicine showed that competitive cyclists gain no advantage from taking beet root juice (Scand J Med Sci Sports, Oct 1, 2012). Jens Bangsbo, of the University of Copenhagen, gave a half liter of beet root juice to professional bicycle racers for six days and achieved very high blood levels of nitrates. Those receiving a placebo had the same repeated sprint and endurance times, ability to transport and use oxygen, and power output. Dr. Bangsbo states: "In contrast to observations in moderately trained subjects, intake of beet root juice had no effect on VO(2) kinetics (oxygen use) and performance in elite cyclists."

A team from the University of Barcelona in Spain had the same results, showing that a single oral dose of inorganic nitrate acutely reduced oxygen use but did not improve performance of athletes (Med Sci Sports Exerc., 2011 Oct; 43(10):1979-86).

On the other hand, researchers at Maastricht University Medical Centre, in The Netherlands found that beet root juice helped trained cyclists ride faster in time trials (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab., 2012 Feb;22(1):64-71).

More on nitrates and beet root juice

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Vigorous Exercise Helps to Prevent Metabolic Syndrome

Brisk walking halved a person's chances of suffering metabolic syndrome over a 10-year period, while leisurely walking up to an hour a day did not prevent metabolic syndrome (British Medical Journal, October 8, 2012).

At the start of the study, 37 percent of sedentary people suffered metabolic syndrome, compared to 14 percent for regular exercisers. Ten years later, an additional 19 percent of the sedentary people had developed metabolic syndrome, compared to only 12 percent of the exercisers.

HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE METABOLIC SYNDROME: If you have any three of the following risk factors, you have metabolic syndrome, and are at high risk for a heart attack and diabetes:

• storing fat in your belly
• having small hips
• having high blood triglycerides (over 150)
• having low blood levels of the good HDL cholesterol (less than 40)
• having a fatty liver
• having a fasting blood sugar over 100
• being overweight
• having cells that respond poorly to insulin
• having high blood pressure

HIGH TRIGLYCERIDES, LOW HDL CHOLESTEROL: When blood sugar rises too high, the excess sugar is converted to triglycerides. High triglycerides can cause clotting and strokes. You use up your good HDL cholesterol carrying triglycerides from your bloodstream to your liver (low HDL cholesterol). The liver then fills up with fat (fatty liver) which prevents cells from responding to insulin (insulin insensitivity) and causes diabetes.

FAT IN BELLY AND SMALL HIPS: When blood sugar levels rise too high, the pancreas tries to lower high blood sugar by producing huge amounts of insulin. Insulin specifically causes fat to be deposited in the belly. Diabetics store fat primarily in their bellies, while non-diabetics store fat in both the belly and hips. When you are fat from high insulin levels, far less fat is deposited in the hips or buttocks.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE METABOLIC SYNDROME: To lower high blood sugar:

1) Avoid being overweight.
2) Do not take sugared drinks in any form, including fruit juices, except during prolonged intense exercise.
3) Avoid foods with added sugar.
4) Avoid fried foods.
5) Eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables.
6) Do not eat red meat (blocks insulin receptors).
7) Exercise.
8) Grow muscle.
9) Reduce body fat.
10) Keep blood levels of hydroxy-vitamin D above 75 nmol/L.

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How to Start a Vigorous Exercise Program

CAUTION: Intense exercise can cause a heart attack in a person who has blocked arteries. People who want to start exercising intensely should first check with their doctors.

BACKGROUND BEFORE PEAKING: First go out and exercise every day until your legs feel heavy or hurt, and then stop. You will gradually increase the time that you can exercise. Take days off when your muscles feel stiff or tired. Gradually you will be able to work up to 30 minutes a day of casual exercise. Now you are ready to start increasing the intensity.

STRESS AND RECOVER: All knowledgeable athletes train by a stress and recover program. They take a hard workout on one day, feel sore on the next day and go easy for as many days as it takes for their muscles to heal. Then they take another hard workout. You should apply this same principle to your exercise program.

On your hard day, pedal, cycle, dance, walk, or run until you feel a burning in your muscles and then slow down immediately. When your muscles have recovered completely, gradually pick up the pace again and slow down immediately when you feel a burn. When your muscles have completely recovered, pick up the pace again. When your muscles start to feel stiff or hurt or you feel tired, stop for the day.

On the next day, your muscles will feel sore, so go slowly until you feel increasing discomfort and then stop. Do this for as many days as it takes for your muscles to feel fresh again. Then take another hard workout. Follow each hard workout with one or more recovery days. You should always go slowly when your muscles feel sore from a previous workout. You are now training intensely.

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This week's medical history:
Patrick Henry’s Wife

For a complete list of my medical history biographies go to Histories and Mysteries

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Recipe of the Week:

Trail Mix Bars

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book
- it's FREE

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October 14th, 2012
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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