The Big Idea
Many of the habits we have talked about on our Instragram Live sessions, initially came to our attention because we do a lot of scientific reading as part of our work as coaches who specialise in using brain science to improve business performance.
What has been brilliant about The52Project is that many of our testing partners have brought additional good habits to the table for us to test from less academic sources – maybe from friends or just by stumbling on something improved their mood.
We have been able to dig into the science about how your positive habits work – maybe by releasing a particular brain chemical for example.
We have also explored together how ‘habits’ become ‘habitual’ – they become something our subconscious brain does automatically, without us consciously thinking about them. We have also come to know that not noticing that you have a choice can be a bad thing if you have a habit you want to break – or a good thing if you have a new habit you want to embed – we can choose to do something different if we move off autopilot.
Many of our testing partners have reported that they were doing something for no other reason than they once tried it and it stuck. They are then delighted to find they have been doing something that is releasing brain chemicals that are brilliant for them – without trying or paying much attention!
Drinking beetroot juice is a great case in point for me. The reason I first got into beetroot juice has nothing to do with science whatsoever!
My life-long love of beetroot came in two stages. Firstly my oldest friend Lucy and I have an ongoing in-joke about beetroot. I have known Lucy since I was 4 – I should keep her under wraps actually as she knows where all my worst habits originated! I’m sure as many in-jokes do, this will sound a bit unfunny when I write it down – but here goes… As grown-ups we habitually buy each other increasingly bizarre beetroot related paraphernalia because one birthday, when we were kids, she signed her card “Don’t eat too much beetroot, Love Lucy x”. It made me laugh and that was that – habit formed!
Beetroot-love story Part Two: About 15 years ago, I was having a lovely dinner with friends I met in Newcastle at University – Chris and Laura. Chris and I used to introduce each other to wine that we couldn’t really afford, but wanted an excuse to drink anyway! I remember one night he introduced me to a wonderful New Zealand wine called Isabel (I loved it so much I subsequently went half way around the world to stay at their vineyard but that’s another story!). That same night he also introduced me to beetroot juice!
Chris had been to the doctors and told his blood pressure was a bit high. It was a surprise and given his relatively young age, rather than tablets, his doctor had recommended beetroot juice. I’d never heard of juicing beetroot. However, having a fascination and affinity with all things beetroot from a young age, I put my wine down (I know hard to believe) and insisted on trying some right that minute. I wasn’t expecting to like it at all – but was really pleasantly surprised.
Now, my blood pressure was low rather than high, so I had no medical need for it, but I hunted it down in the supermarket (mostly, so I could send a photo to Lucy!). However, once I knew which aisle the beetroot juice was kept in, when I saw it again, it became one of those things I started buying because it tasted nice and reminded me of a good night and a funny story.
By the way – it is in the concentrated, non-fridge fruit juice aisle – usually next to tomato and veg juice rather than apple and orange if that’s helpful!
Just like our followers today who were asking where to buy it, you too will have passed beetroot juice in the supermarket aisle hundreds of times! This is another daily illustration of that funny quirk we have – our brain doesn’t pay attention to things until we tell it to look for something. I’d never seen beetroot juice until that day – and now I spot it every time I’m shopping! Maybe you will now too! (If you want a reminder of confirmation bias and cognitive “lies” and the RAS or reticular activating system, check out the Big Word Watch.)
It was some years later when I was watching a BBC programme ‘Trust me, I’m a Doctor’ that I realised I had inadvertently been doing something really good for me. Not only did the programme confirm that beetroot juice was indeed good for lowering blood pressure, the doctor on there also talked about some science they had been trialling with elite athletes. Researchers had found that it enabled people to train harder and for longer – improving their times over their chosen distances. They also found it seemed to have an impact on how mentally sharp people were too. Beetroot juice seemed to make you faster and keep you sharper afterwards!
Could something that I had got into on the back of a childhood joke and a night out had the power to turn me into super-hero?! I wanted to find out more, but as so often happens, real-life got in my way of looking into the science more deeply. I just continued to drink beetroot juice and felt a big smug about it!
However now, with 10 years of the juice behind me (and a joke on the The52Project about drinking red wine the morning after my birthday) we were asked more about the science of plant power…
So, Dr Iain went back for a proper look at the facts!
Got it…What’s the Science
So research does shows that drinking beet juice may help. In a 2015 study 250ml (a big glass of wine size) of beet juice daily was found to lower high blood pressure and over a 4 week period participants in the study were shown to have significantly reduced their blood pressure levels – and had improved the function of the inner lining of blood vessels.
Beetroot is high in naturally high in nitrates and they are converted in the body to nitric oxide (NO), a molecule involved in blood vessel dilation and also a neurotransmitter – which can take messages between connections in the brain. As a result, beet juice has been found to enhance blood flow to muscles and to the brain – and may also be involved in moving messages between different parts of the brains more efficiently.
So blood pressure reduction goes along with these nitrates, now nitric oxide, allowing blood vessels to open up and enabling the blood to flow more efficiently. These nitrates also seem to have a remarkable effect on stamina when exercising. One study suggests that in a clinically controlled trial, people were able to train for 16% longer after consuming beetroot juice – this equated to about a 2% decrease in the time it took the athlete to complete their usual race – a huge margin when you think about the milli-seconds that they are often trying to take off times!
This study at the University of Exeter makes fascinating reading and has really interesting implications Professor Andy Jones – then an adviser to top UK athlete Paula Radcliffe – said: “We were amazed by the effects of beetroot juice on oxygen uptake because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training.”
Whilst the study was of interest to professional and amateur athletes, Professor Jones also went on to “explore the relevance of the findings to those people who suffer from poor fitness and may be able to use dietary supplements to help them go about their daily lives.”
The BBC ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’ programme helped us to understand the implications for ordinary people a bit better. What if a glass of beetroot juice helped people who didn’t exercise to start doing so because they could experience the benefit of exercise without initially feeling so tired that they gave up? Or how about if non-exercisers pleasantly surprised themselves in the early days? So this might be something to think about for yourself – or to pass on to a friend who wants to do more exercise, but is lacking the energy to get started.
There have also been studies which have suggested that beetroot juice can also improve learning and memory as well as mental sharpness after exercise. The research is still being done but it seems that it is most likely to nitric oxide opening up the blood vessels to areas of the body and brain that need it most when doing challenging tasks (remember what we said about water and hydration for brain function in #Tip7). The involvement in nitric oxide as a typical neurotransmitter, messengers that cross between synapses (the minute gaps between brain cells’ wiring) is currently less clear BUT seems it might help brain cells by acting as a volume control for signalling. It turns out that nitric oxide doesn’t hang around and is more made to order rather than stored until it is needed which makes it tricky to study. The BBC study was small but it did back up this research too – they found that particularly after exercising that the usual ‘brain fatigue’, also called ‘brain fade’, that you can experience after exercise was removed by drinking the juice before the exercise began – around 15 to 20 minutes seemed to be ideal.
So simply drinking beetroot juice could have real benefits for anyone who plays a team sport – your second half reaction times seem to be much improved from drinking beetroot juice before starting the first half. For those of us who intend to continue with a walk at lunchtime or want to cycle to work when we get to the office again, it is worth bearing this in mind so that you arrive not just feeling good – but also mentally sharp to start your day.
Other nitrate rich vegetables do have the same effect. These include radishes, spinach ad rocket so they are all worthy of consideration too. Thanks to Lucy I’m just converted to my purple juice. The BBC study found that a salad with nitrates in was just as effective as the beetroot juice when it came to improving stamina and maintaining mental sharpness after exercise.
REMEMBER TO CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR if you know that you suffer from low blood pressure or have ongoing and / or complex health conditions.
There’s also a suggestion that a glass of beetroot juice a day, may help people who have Raynaud’s Syndrome improve the circulation to their hands and feet. It certainly makes sense with the nitric oxide produced opening up the blood vessels throughout the body – including the extremities. In that people with Raynaud’s Syndrome often have other medical conditions, this plant power tip is one that we’d suggest asking your doctor or consultant about before trying it out.
What about downsides? Well there is a slight shock in store if you momentarily forget that you have drank the juice later on – it does turn your wee pink! It can have that effect on stools too. Like anything, we wouldn’t recommend pints of the stuff without consulting a doctor either- in one reported case, we have read about, beetroot juice didn’t mix well her psoriasis medication – so it is always worth checking with your doctor if you are taking a medicine – and read the medication small print in case.
So as far as The52Project is concerned, beetroot juice is one for us as we are all for super-low effort tips. So by all means, make a nitrate rich salad! But for an easy life, keep a bottle of beetroot juice in the fridge at the ready- I find that storing it by the wine helps with habit stacking!
Watch our #Tip14 on the Instagram Live Recording….
The first BBC ‘Trust me, I’m a Doctor’ that mentioned beetroot juice – in relation to it’s power to reduce blood pressure. They compared it with garlic and watermelon – 2 other foodstuffs that have also been said to have similar properties – find it here.
The second BBC programme to explore beet power – this time in relation to stamina and exercise – can be found here.
Another article on a food related website which references some of the scientific studies which suggest beetroot is really good for us – this is a great side if you are into nutrition generally can be found here.
A BBC article on beets can be found here.
A clinical article on Raynaud’s Syndrome and beetroot juice – it should be noted that this is both a recent, and small study – can be read here.
An tentative example of nitric oxide acting as neurotransmitter come neuromodulator (volume controller) can be found here.
I have never really wondered deeply about why – with 10 years of the juice behind me – I wasn’t a world-beating sprinter! But perhaps it does explain in part why I seemed to find it easier than some of my friends to get out for a walk in the morning sunshine – and why I find I come back fit and raring to go for a days’s work which usually involves a lot of brain power? Certainly now I have found out my beetroot habit might be helping, I’ll be stocking up, not stepping back from it!
One of our live viewers this week Mike is a regular runner and is going to report back on his beetroot related time and how he feels after exercise. We would love to hear from you – regular exerciser or not to see if a little glass of this red stuff seems to do something really quite miraculous for you…
Regular live viewer and tester James Bushe gave us this feedback on this tip: “After the 10am tip on that Friday I went out to get some. Had a glass 20 minutes before my run, and amazingly ran my 10km personal best. Even if there might have been some part of a placebo effect in there, it works! It’s now part of my run routine, and I feel all the better for it.”
Related Top Tips