By Mandy Oaklander
January 21, 2015

Athletes are known to chug beet juice to give them an endurance boost. The root vegetables are a rich natural source of nitrates—which may help with blood flow—and they’re thought to give exercisers an edge by increasing flow to their limbs during workouts. Now, a new study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism shows that beet juice really is good for athletes—but maybe not for the reasons they believe.

In a small trial, 12 healthy men in their early twenties drank beet juice either with nitrates, or a placebo version with the nitrates removed. Three hours after drinking, researchers measured the size of their arteries and flow speed of their blood when they were at rest and during six different intensities of a hand grip exercise.

Contrary to what they expected to find, researchers discovered that the beet juice had no effect on blood flow or artery size, either at rest or during activity. But they did find that it lowered pressure of blood vessels at rest.

The authors note that more research is needed to determine if the results would change under more strenuous exercise, or in an older, less healthy population. But other studies have shown beet’s positive effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health—which could mean that far more of us than just elite athletes might want to give beets a chance.

Write to Mandy Oaklander at mandy.oaklander@time.com.

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