The benefits of consuming beetroot juice has been a hot topic in our bunch since the subject was raised at coffee a while back. Beetroot juice is one of five, Group A performance supplements listed by the Australian Institute of Sport. Group A supplements are legal, have been proven to enhance athletic performance and importantly, won’t kill you. In case you’re wondering, the others members of Group A are caffeine, creatine, bicarbonate and B-alanine.
I am not disputing the science, however as a coach and former personal trainer, I have frequently seen athletes latch onto the latest nutrition, equipment or training headline, when in fact they would be much better served by simply covering off the basics. My favorite example is the guy in the gym who sips on a protein shake between sets, but never lifts to failure.
So before you go reaching for that glass of purple performance booster, ask yourself if are you taking care of the basics. Here are my top performance enhancers that I would put ahead of beetroot juice in terms of effectiveness and taste.
Ride Your Bike
Yes, seriously. Although I don’t subscribe to the “more is better” theory of training, if you want to improve your cycling, it is important to ride your bike. For most people that’s 4 - 5 times a week. If you haven’t ridden 5 times a week for the last 4 weeks, forget the juice and start pedalling.
Test and Record
If you don’t know your current fitness level, or how much work you did this week compared to last, how do you know if you are improving? Even if you are not training with a power meter and associated software, there are plenty of ways to keep track of your training map your progress (or lack of!).
Sleep is the king of recovery and cheaper than a glass of juice. Try adding an extra half hour a night and watch your recovery and performance improve. If only I could bottle and sell it!
A glass of beetroot juice is not going compensate for a diet lacking in lots of fresh veggies, leafy greens, complex carbs and lean protein. Sorry, but no single food will, it just doesn’t work that way. So load up at the salad bar before you think of visiting the juice bar.
Are you carrying an extra kilo or two? Then consuming extra calories, even in the form of vegetable juice isn’t going to help you create a calorie deficit. More and more evidence is showing that for weight loss, eating less is better than exercising more.
Chew Your Food
While I’m on the subject, I don’t like “diets”, especially ones based on juicing. Eat whole food, stuff that grows on trees and in the ground. Importantly, chewing your food properly releases enzymes that help the absorption of nutrients. Chewing is also cheaper and takes up less space than a fancy blender.
There is nothing wrong with being strong! Cycling might be great for your aerobic fitness, but like driving a car or working at a computer, it is done sitting down with your arms out in front. If you are not incorporating strength training into your sessions, then reach for a dumbbell and not a beet.
A good resistance program will improve your strength, posture and bone density. Learn proper form from a knowledgeable trainer, stay away from machines where possible and lift to failure.
From 20 minutes to 15 seconds, at least one of your sessions a week should be a hard interval set. Two 20 minute hard efforts with a 20 minute recovery between will do more for your FTP than anything you can drink.
If you are getting your doors blown off early, it maybe your warm up is not sufficient. Remember your heart rate lags behind your power output and a good warm up will have your body primed to respond to early surges and attacks. There’s no single best way, but a simple 20 minute build up with a few hard efforts can make all the difference. Team Sky and British Cycling even publish their warm up protocols on the web. If it’s good enough for Froomey and Cav, it might just work for you.
Improve Your Flexibility
Free speed is in the palm of your hands, just grab your drops and hunker down out of the wind. While slamming the stem is not for everyone, you should be comfortable and functional low down on your bars. If you can’t maintain a low position, then you need to stretch until you can. Don’t make it too complicated, oldies and goldies work just fine. Stretch regularly and gently after riding.
If you can honestly say yes to all of the above, then by all means do your research and give beetroot juice a try. If not, then work on your basics and enjoy the benefits they will bring.