Beets have long been known as nutritional powerhouses (and I think they are delicious too, perking up otherwise boring salads and soups). But a recent study has looked at how the juice from this root vegetable affects athletic endurance — and the results are impressive. Those runners who regularly drank beet juice had longer, stronger-feeling runs than those who drank something else. 

How does beet juice affect exercise? The veggies are a great source of nitrate, which the body converts into nitric oxide, which improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. So yes, beet juice can be a great (and scientifically proven) natural tool to fight high blood pressure

Do you have to drink the juice rather than eating a delicious beet-goats milk-and-arugula sandwich? Yes, say experts: "Eating beets won’t give you the same quantity of nitrates, because cooking hampers some of the nitrates, but it certainly is good for your health," Marjorie Nolan, RD, told WebMD. Beet juice lowers blood pressure soon after you consume it. 

The best results from consuming beet juice for exercise impact came two to three hours after drinking it; when a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology tested the effects of different dosages on athletic performance, it was determined that the highest quantity of juice had the most positive effect on the cyclists in the study. "The amount of oxygen required to maintain a given level of moderate exercise decreased after taking beet juice; in other words, it took less energy to cycle at the same pace. The best results came from the highest dose, which decreased oxygen consumption by about 3 percent," according to an article in Runner's World magazine. 

You can find beet juice at almost any fresh juice bar (you want to get it from raw — not cooked — beets). You can drink it straight, like a shot, or mix it with other juices; I like to combine beet, apple and ginger for a sweet, refreshing beverage; beet, cucumber and carrot is another delicious combination. Individual results will vary, depending on your weight and metabolism (so try different combinations and quantities of beet juice to see what works for you), but athletes saw about a 1-2 percent improvement in their times, and felt stronger after drinking beet juice.

Some people have reported strong reactions to straight beet juice, so if you go that route, start with a half-cup or so of juice and work your way up to larger amounts, to make sure it doesn't make you feel nauseous.  

If you decide to try adding beet juice to your diet, keep in mind that it has a powerful color; it can stain your counters or clothing easily — and it can also color your urine and excrement, so be aware (and don't worry) if you notice something a little different in the toilet. 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Beet juice is the secret to your best run
This powerhouse veggie includes compounds that will enable you to run further — but incorporating it into your diet should be done carefully.