San Diego State basketball travels to Logan, Utah this week to play games Thursday and Friday against Utah State.
The Aggies (9-3, 6-0 in the Mountain West Conference) are a great team, winners of 8 straight, but what makes playing at Utah State even more challenging is the altitude. Utah State University sits an elevation for 4,777 feet. San Diego State University sits an elevation of 434 feet.
Considering it takes about 2 weeks to acclimate to altitude, playing two games, two days apart at 4,777 feet for a team that is basically used to sea level, well that's not ideal
“When we play that second game, I'm sure we’ll see some effects," said Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher. "It won’t be anything where guys are falling down tired, but it might produce a half-step where we are not supposed to be and that could determine the game. I may have to use the bench more frequently and earlier in that second game. That second game is a little bit tougher, we'll have to take the right precautions.”
Those precautions include beet juice.
Aztec players are drinking beet juice to help deal with the negative effects of altitude.
"I wouldn't say it's the best taste in the world, but it definitely does the trick," said senior forward Matt Mitchell.
Why beet juice?
Researchers have found that nitrate-rich beet root juice helps the body acclimatize more quickly and thoroughly at high altitude. Drinking beet juice can help you beat acute mountain sickness, caused by lower air pressures at high altitude which affects the ability of our bodies to take up oxygen.
Aztec athletic trainer Sergio Ibarra makes the beet juice and encourages SDSU players to start drinking 4 ounces of beet juice a day, 3 to 5 days before traveling to altitude. Aztec players started drinking beet juice last season when playing at altitude and you can't argue with the results, SDSU went 6-0 in high altitude games last season.
The bad taste aside, Mitchell is a beet believer saying "I'm sucking it up!"
Dutcher says his players are "craving it, they feel it helps," but coach has yet to hop on the beet bandwagon when it comes to drinking the beet juice.
"I'll take an Advil and deal with the altitude headache, but no beet juice for the coaches.”
In addition to the altitude, playing at Utah State presents plenty of challenges on the court. The Aggies have won 8 straight games, all by 13 points or more, so this team is rolling.
When asked about the key to the Aggies win streak, Dutcher said Utah State has "buttoned up their defense, they've improved drastically on defense. This is going to be ultimate challenge for us on the road.”
It will be a challenge, but one that San Diego State believes it can "beet" thanks to a somewhat secret, natural weapon.