The consumption of energy and sports drinks has become mainstream in many athletic circles, and rightly so, as it has been shown that using energy drinks in moderation could be beneficial to both explosive activities as well as endurance events (Gutiérrez-Hellin, 2021). However, many negative side effects have been reported and are associated with its use, including an increase in blood pressure and extra strain on the cardiovascular system (Gutiérrez-Hellin, 2021). A literature review done by Fahad et al (2015) shows that the adolescent population and young males experience the most adverse side effects when consuming energy drinks. Some of the side effects experienced by this specific demographic group include substance abuse, risk-taking behaviours as well as a negative impact on their cardiovascular and neurological systems.

The main ingredients used in energy drinks are usually caffeine, taurine, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (Gutiérrez-Hellin, 2021). The effects of caffeine and taurine have been studied most and it has been shown that caffeine influences the cardiovascular system, stimulates the central nervous system and secretes adrenaline (Gut, 2021). Unfortunately, it is also well-studied that the body gets conditioned to consuming these drinks which causes some athletes to rely on these substances to function and maintain a certain level of performance.

An interesting meta-analysis done by Nadeem et al (2021) which included around 96 000 individuals in more than 32 studies, showed that energy drinks are harmful to consumers in many different ways. The adverse events that were most frequently reported were insomnia, increased stress, restlessness, jitteriness, depressed mood, digestive upset (stomachache, nausea, diarrhoea), cardiorespiratory events (elevated heart rate/ heart palpitations and chest pain), neurological events (headaches, tremors, dizziness), and unregulated immune responses. Even though these drinks do seem to be effective for some athletes, the unwanted side effects could easily outweigh the benefits in the long run. It would, therefore, be really helpful to find an alternative that offers the same type of benefits without harming the individual’s health in any way.

Beetroot seems to be very promising in this area as it has garnered a lot of attention with regard to enhancing endurance performance. Beetroot has a very high nitrate content (Ormsbee, et al, 2013) which is converted to nitric oxide in the body. When this happens blood flow is increased to muscles and more nutrients, glucose and oxygen are absorbed to fuel muscles (Arazi, 2021). It, therefore, makes sense that Murphy (2012) has shown that 200g of baked beetroot ingested pre-exercise can enhance performance and even improve running speed in certain trials.

Nitric oxide has also been shown to increase the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which, in long-term activity reduces fatigue and also impacts developmental effects on the heart and skeletal muscles (Arazi, 2021) Nitric oxide also seems to impact the hormonal responses of testosterone and cortisol (Arazi, 2021). Lastly, the phytochemicals found in beetroot inhibit inflammation (Arazi, 2021) which means that it provides protection against free radical damage and oxidative stress (Ormsbee, 2013). This mechanism is extremely useful when it comes to recovery after exercise. All of these elements add up when looking to improve and sustain performance.

The timing of beetroot ingestion is very important, however, as the nitric oxide peaks in the body within 2-3 hours after it has been taken. It is, therefore, advised, to have beetroot 90 min before the activity for optimal results (Dominguez et al, 2017).

It is important to take into consideration that many athletes might be using energy drinks because of the convenience that it offers – as it is often packaged in small sachets/ bottles that are easily accessible before or even during their event. If we want to offer the athlete an equal alternative to these products, for health-protecting reasons, it needs to make sense on a practical level as well. As nitric oxide levels peak after 2-3 hours of consumption, it would be fairly easy to have roasted beetroot/ beetroot juice at this time. Other options could include beetroot chips (made in an air fryer) to make them easier to transport.

Even though energy drinks do offer benefits to athletes, there are many negative consequences. The recommendation is to experiment with beetroot for enhanced performance without any added harmful side effects.

Find out more about how you can be supported through an individualised support program to improve performance here.

Resources

Arazi H, Eghbali E. 2021. Possible Effects of Beetroot Supplementation on Physical Performance Through Metabolic, Neuroendocrine, and Antioxidant Mechanisms: A Narrative Review of the Literature. Front Nutr. 2021 May 13;8:660150. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.660150. PMID: 34055855; PMCID: PMC8155490.

Domínguez R, et al. 2017. Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Jan 6;9(1):43. doi: 10.3390/nu9010043. PMID: 28067808; PMCID: PMC5295087.

Fahad Ali, et al. 2015. Energy drinks and their adverse health effects: A systematic review of the current evidence, Postgraduate Medicine, 127:3, 308-322, DOI: 10.1080/00325481.2015.1001712

Gutiérrez-Hellín J & Varillas-Delgado D. 2021. Energy Drinks and Sports Performance, Cardiovascular Risk, and Genetic Associations; Future Prospects. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 24;13(3):715. doi: 10.3390/nu13030715. PMID: 33668219; PMCID: PMC7995988.

Murphy, M et al. 2012. Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 2012, 112, 548–552

Nadeem IM, et al. 2021. Energy Drinks and Their Adverse Health Effects: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Health. 2021 May-Jun;13(3):265-277. doi: 10.1177/1941738120949181. Epub 2020 Nov 19. PMID: 33211984; PMCID: PMC8083152.

Ormsbee, M.J.; Lox, J.; Arciero, P.J. Beetroot Juice and Exercise Performance. J. Int. Soc.Sports Nutr. 2013, 5, 27–35

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