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In the last few years, Olympic distance runners like Mo Farrah, Dylan Wykes and Ryan Hall have admitted to drinking beet juice before races.

The theory is that the nitrates in the thick red liquid enhances blood flow to muscles during exercise. But a recent study from Penn State showed no effects on blood flow from the beets, though they did “de-stiffen” blood vessels at rest, allowing the heart to work more efficiently. But the verdict is still out. The research team says the effects may be different when the body is undergoing more demanding exercises, such as marathon running, than the ones tested in the study.

There are some hints that beet juice does have a few superpowers. Alistair Bland at NPR reports that another recent study showed beet juice improved muscle power in patients with heart failure by 13 percent. Other research suggests that the juice helped patients with the lung disease COPD improve their ability to exercise.

Just remember, the placebo effect can be very strong on its own. So even if a particular training or nutrition ritual doesn't physiologically make you stronger, never fear. If you believe it works, it just might.

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