The first thing I thought when a couple of tiny bottles and a flapjack landed on my lap was: snake oil! But I try not to prejudge, so I went off and had a look at the science.
Here’s what the company says about its product:
BEET IT SPORT was “developed especially for the leading sports performance research teams” and “have rapidly been picked up by the sporting elite looking for a natural boost”.
It’s made of 100% natural ingredients (this always cracks me up; everything is natural. Plastic comes from oil, which is natural. Anyway, I digress). It comes in tiny bottles, about three inches high, which are really cute. And they’re 98% concentrated beetroot juice and “cut with” 2% lemon juice, which makes it sound excitingly like it’s come out of Breaking Bad.
So, is there real science behind it? Apparently so. I couldn’t find any mention of BEET IT or dietary nitrates on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog, which is a very good sign.
The idea is that eating nitrate-rich foods can increase natural nitric oxide (NO) production. Why would athletes want to do this? Because NO relaxes and widens blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and increasing blood flow to organs and tissues. Which, in turn, delivers more oxygen and nutrients.
That’s a Very Good Thing if you’re a sporty type, particularly if you’re one of the crazies who does ultramarathons, long runs and epic cycles.
They’ve actually tested this stuff: Science In Sport tells me that in one study where nitrates were eaten for 4-6 days, it took 15% longer for the subject to become exhausted during severe-intensity running. I’d want to see more studies before drawing any conclusions, but it’s interesting.
What does that mean for people like me, who run regularly and enter race events, but are hardly ‘serious’ or ‘professional’? Well, I’m not sure. I only had a couple of samples, which isn’t enough to draw any conclusions. I didn’t feel any different.
What follows is very subjective, and I feel a little guilty – someone with different tastes will have a very different opinion…
Aside from its super-cute bottle, the juice was pretty minging, to be honest. I thought it had a really dodgy aftertaste. Do pay attention and follow the instructions – drink it at least an hour before running. I didn’t, I drank it just before and it sloshed around unpleasantly in my belly. This is hardly the company’s fault, but I’m including it as a cautionary tale.
Having said that, my husband reckons it tastes alright, like cold tomato soup. That doesn’t sound appealing to me, but each to their own. You might like it.
I did give it another go, and left a couple of hours before running 12 miles. I didn’t really notice anything except faint nausea and a ringing in my ears, but that could just have been the heat and the general fact of running 12 miles.
They also sent me a couple of flapjacks. The flapjack was disturbingly purple. That’ll be the beetroot then. It tasted… odd. It was far too sweet for my taste, and there was too much of it. Made me feel a bit sick.
Good for a quick burst of energy, but beware of the inevitable sugar crash. Aside from that, people with a sweet tooth will probably love it. It certainly didn’t taste nasty, just… odd.
Oh, also, try and remember you’ve eaten a beetrooty thing, or you get a shock the next morning… the hashtag #pissingrainbow is a thing for a reason. If you remember the beetroot consumption, it saves you shrieking the house down thinking you’ve got internal bleeding.
So, is it worth it for casual runners (and cyclists and other sporty types)? There’s a really good, thorough article here discussing the studies. Have a read and make your own mind up.
And price? It’s actually not that expensive. I was pleasantly surprised when I looked it up. You can buy a pack of 15 juices on Amazon for £20.99 and a box of 15 flapjacks for £24.65. That’s not going to break the bank.
But for the tiny difference it makes to non-elite athletes, I’m afraid I really couldn’t be bothered even if I liked it.