I Tried Beet Juice For Muscle Recovery — Here's What Happened.
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
Throughout my life, I've had my fair share of injuries—from muscle tears to stress fractures and shattered bones—that my initial interest in recovery has become a full-blown obsession. I stalk around sporting goods stores looking for balms, rollers, and other forms of machinery to help my muscles feel better as quickly as humanly possible. This journey has led me down many paths—including the aisles of health food stores, where I first saw my first bottle of beetroot juice.
I'd heard whisperings that beet juice was becoming a go-to for enhancing performance and speeding up muscle recovery, but I brushed them off like crumbs on my shirt—especially the recovery claims. How could something as basic as juice do anything to repair my muscles (or even make me feel better) after a workout? The way I saw it, and still see it, is that nothing other than time and protein can truly repair your muscles. Sure, there are plenty of ways to relieve pain temporarily—stretchers, salts, and sprays being some of them—but in terms of patching up the damage and relieving muscle fatigue, I always saw eating right and resting as the way to go.
But instead of letting my bias get the best of me, I decided to put beetroot juice to the test to see what all the hype was all about.
Benefits of beetroot juice.
Aside from turning everything it touches red, beetroot juice has quite a number of benefits. It's rich in vitamin C, iron, folate, and magnesium1, and it contains an antioxidant called betacyanin (a type of betalain) that's said to be anti-inflammatory2.
"Beetroot juice contains powerful antioxidants and is a good source of vitamins, especially vitamin A, vitamin B-6, and iron3," says Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D. "Beetroot juice can be a beneficial addition to any healthy diet—just remember to be mindful of any juice that has added sugar or other ingredients."
If you're not a fan of juice and would rather add more fiber to your diet, you could eat beetroot in its whole form—but it depends on what kind of sensory experience you're looking for, how much fiber your diet already provides you, and if you want to add cooking beets to your to-do list. (And to be clear, because it confused me, beetroot is the same as a table beet—the kind you put in salads, roast whole, etc.)
Does it work for recovery?
When I started researching beetroot juice, I was surprised to find that it's a controversial topic in the midst in roaring debate (it isn't really roaring, but I like to imagine that it is). What I mean is that lines have been drawn: Some claim that beetroot juice is a supplement best served before a workout in order to enhance athletic and cardiovascular performance4. Others assert that beetroot juice should be relegated to recovery5. It's a mixed bag, to say the least. Schehr, though, says the claims are questionable and by no means guaranteed.
"Studies show that beetroot juice has the potential to reduce muscle pain if consumed post workout," she says. "Beetroot juice does not, however, improve strength or performance in most studies. If you wanted to take beetroot juice, it would be appropriate to do so post-workout, especially between bouts of repeated exercise such as sprinting and interval training."
In other words, it could or could not work for muscle recovery. Given my love for recovery, that was all the endorsement I needed.
Here's what I did
For two weeks, I took the recommended dose of beetroot juice (2 tablespoons, according to the brand I used) within an hour after my workout. If you've never had beetroot juice, you'll likely be pleasantly surprised by the taste—it's sweeter than most single-plant juices due to its natural sugars. So after a sweaty workout—when I'll more or less drink anything—the wee bit of beetroot juice was a welcome addition to my hydration. Most days I mixed it into my water, and other days I just threw it back because I'm an adult. It was never gross, and it wasn't something I dreaded—unlike some post-workout drinks I've had, which, to spare you the adjectives, are less than palatable.
To be completely transparent: Beetroot juice didn't seem to help my muscle recovery. That could be for a number of reasons. First off, muscle soreness is a bit hard to quantify. Was I less sore than I'd normally be? Not really. Was I more sore? It's hard to say.
It's also possible that I wasn't taking enough beetroot juice to mitigate the levels of soreness I was feeling. I stuck to my normal routine of HIIT, boxing, and spinning during these two weeks, but maybe it was too much for poor beetroot juice. In the days following my workouts, I was still very sore (and, at times, a bit resentful of beetroot juice because I'd forgone my tried-and-true recovery tactics to see if this alone would work—I'm coming back for you, magnesium.)
Soreness aside, I did notice that after drinking beetroot juice, I felt super hydrated—more so than when I drank water, and it happened much faster. Given that beetroot juice contains some of the electrolytes we lose when we sweat, like sodium and potassium, that result isn't out of character. So if you're someone who has written off water alternatives, but you often work out at a high intensity, it could be worth trying beetroot juice the next time you feel dehydrated, and consulting with an R.D. about what exact amount is right for you. Whether or not it will work in the future for my soreness is up for discovery, but in the meantime, I'm happy that I at least found a new hydrating (and beautiful, to boot!) drink.
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction. A runner, yogi, boxer, and cycling devotee, Bass searches for the hardest workouts in New York (and the best ways to recover from them). She's debunked myths about protein, posture, and the plant-based diet, and has covered everything from the best yoga poses for chronic pain to the future of fitness, recovery, and America's obsession with the Whole30 diet.