Joint & Muscle Health

Popeye's Secret For Building Muscle Mass: How Spinach Improves Muscle Strength And Function

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Popeye's Secret For Building Muscle Mass: How Spinach Improves Muscle Strength And Function about Bone & Muscle Defense

Research shows you lose three percent of your muscle mass every year after age 60. That may be one of the reasons why as you get older you can struggle to complete everyday tasks like taking out the trash… unloading the groceries… or even opening a jar.

And when you bring this up to your mainstream doctor, he’s going to say two things: Eat more protein and get more exercise. Now, this isn’t bad advice – adding more protein-rich foods to your diet and getting more exercise will help your muscles stay strong and flexible. However, when it comes to muscle-building foods, one of the most potent is frequently left off the list.

We're talking about spinach.

It might surprise you to know that spinach is a king among green leafy vegetables for it's ability to help you build and maintain muscle mass and endurance. And its secret is not protein, but a group of natural compounds that promote muscle function, health and performance.

Today we'll examine this little-known side of spinach and why the cartoon character Popeye knows more about natural muscle-building than most people.

Key Takeaways

  • Spinach is one of the only leafy greens that contains a trio of natural compounds, including ecdysterone, betaine, and nitrates, that contribute to muscle function and strength.

  • Studies show that consuming spinach can increase skeletal muscle fitness.

  • Research suggests that consuming spinach alongside exercise can lead to greater improvements in preserving muscle health and muscle function when compared to exercise alone.

Why Spinach?

When you think of foods for muscle growth, you probably think of things like steak, chicken, and beans. But the truth is, you should be thinking of salads, especially spinach salad. You see, spinach is one of the best foods for muscle growth because it contains a trio of natural compounds: Ecdysterone, betaine and nitrates which do everything from improving muscle protein synthesis to fighting inflammation and reducing muscle breakdown that's common with age.

What's more, spinach is a nutrient-dense food that offers fiber, vitamins, and minerals that support overall well-being. When you provide the necessary nutrients for your body to function optimally, you're also indirectly supporting muscle health and function.

Popeye Was Right!

If someone says the words "spinach and muscles", you might think of Popeye the Sailor. This fictional character first appeared in comic strips in 1929 and later in cartoon videos. He quickly became a pop culture icon known for his superhuman strength after eating a can of spinach.

After consuming spinach, Popeye's forearms would bulge with fresh strength and this transformation was often accompanied by the phrase "I'm Popeye the Sailor man, and I'm strong to the finish, 'cause I eats me spinach!" Not surprisingly, the comic strip is credited with contributing to a significant increase in spinach consumption, particularly among children.

While Popeye's world may have been pretend, the muscle strength building benefits of spinach are very real.

Spinach and Building Muscle Mass

In a recent study published in the journal Nutrients, participants aged 50 and older were split into two groups. One took 500 mg of spinach extract four times daily for 12 weeks and performed one hour of moderate-intensity exercise three times per week. The other group took a placebo and did the same type and amount of exercise.

At the end of the study, both groups experienced increased muscle strength. However, the spinach group saw more significant muscle function and quality improvements!

Another study found that just one daily serving of leafy greens – like spinach -- can boost muscle function in the legs. Participants consuming just three ounces of greens a day – about two handfuls of spinach – experienced an 11 percent boost in leg strength.

Data from the study also revealed that spinach provided the most significant benefits to study participants because of its high nitrate content. This nutrient helps increase muscle power naturally.

Nitrates (The Healthy, Natural Kind) Improve Muscle Endurance

Spinach is a great source of nitrates. And yes, that's a good thing. Nitrates in spinach occur naturally, unlike the nitrates in processed food. The nitrates in spinach are formed in the plant as part of its natural metabolic processes and are essential for plant growth. These nitrates are accompanied by other beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Natural nitrates convert to beneficial nitric oxide in the body, which dilates blood vessels, improves blood flow, and can enhance muscle performance and recovery. This effect is more relevant to your body's ability to perform endurance exercise and preserving muscle health and function.

On the other hand, the nitrates in processed food such as hot dogs are added in the form of sodium nitrite or potassium nitrite. These are usually added to prevent the growth of bacteria that could cause foodborne illness or to contribute to coloring or flavor. For example, the pink color of a hot dog is due to nitrates. These nitrates can form dangerous nitrosamines and are linked to health problems and even diseases such as cancer, especially when consumed in high amounts. In fact, nitrosamines are classified as carcinogens by the World Health Organization (WHO).

But perhaps even more important in building muscle strength is a little-known compound called ecdysterone.

Ecdysterone Builds Muscle Mass and Muscle Strength

Ecdysterone, also known as 20-hydroxyecdysone, is a compound found in spinach and other plants that has gained popularity for its benefits in muscle growth and athletic performance. Studies have shown that ecdysterone can increase muscle mass, improve athletic performance, and stimulate muscle cell formation.

Specifically, ecdysterone works by binding to the androgen receptor, promoting muscle mass and strength by triggering biochemical processes that enhance muscle growth. For example, ecdysterone has been shown to help muscle function by:

  • Increasing protein synthesis: Studies suggest that ecdysterone may stimulate protein synthesis, the process by which muscle cells utilize amino acids to build new protein and repair themselves. This can lead to increased muscle growth and strength.

  • Reducing muscle breakdown: Ecdysterone may also help reduce muscle protein breakdown, which is the process by which the body breaks down muscle tissue for energy. This can help preserve muscle mass, especially during periods of exercise, stress, or illness.

  • Improving glycogen storage: Glycogen is the main source of energy for muscles. Ecdysterone may help muscles store more glycogen, which can improve their endurance and performance during exercise.

  • Enhancing energy production: Some studies suggest that Ecdysterone may increase the activity of enzymes involved in energy production within muscle cells. This might potentially improve their overall function and performance.

  • Promoting anti-inflammatory effects: Ecdysterone may have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation after exercise, potentially promoting faster recovery.

Ecdysterone is believed to enhance endurance, reduce fatigue, and improve recovery time after exercise by increasing ATP production, which provides energy to cells essential for muscle contraction.

Ecdysterone Works So Well It Was Banned!

Ecdysterone is such a powerful muscle-building compound that it was banned by the Olympics in the 1980s after Russian athletes were suspected of using spinach extract to boost their performance in the games. One study came to this conclusion about ecdysterone:

“With respect to doping prevention, the high anabolic potency of ecdysterone justifies its classification as an anabolic agent and therefore needs to be listed in the category ‘S1 Anabolic Agents’ of the list of prohibited substances of the World Anti-Doping Agency”.

Spinach also contains a nutrient called betaine, which plays a number of important roles in your body, especially when it comes to skeletal muscle fitness.

Betaine Enhances Muscle Repair

Betaine is a natural compound that acts as a methyl group donor, meaning it donates a methyl group (CH3) to other molecules in the body. This plays a role in various biological processes including homocysteine metabolism to support heart health and cellular protection.

When it comes to your muscle strength, studies suggest that betaine improves muscle endurance by boosting hydration. Betaine can help cells retain water, potentially improving muscle function and endurance during exercise. Betaine can also reduce fatigue during exercise by improving oxygen utilization and reducing lactic acid accumulation. This plays a role in maintaining muscle health and can help promote healthy aging.

Spinach Extract Supplements vs. Fresh Spinach

If you want to improve your muscle health as you get older the easiest way is to eat fresh spinach.

While traditional spinach supplements may offer isolated forms of betaine or other compounds, it's fresh spinach that provides these benefits naturally along with essential nutrients like iron, vitamin A, vitamin B and vitamin C.

Spinach also contains magnesium, a mineral that plays a role in muscle contraction, relaxation, and energy production. Deficiencies in magnesium can lead to muscle pain and weakness, which is why, as you age, most folks can benefit from more magnesium. 

Spinach can be consumed raw, juiced, or cooked. Whether added to smoothies, salads, or cooked dishes like curries, spinach is a versatile addition to your meals.

If you'd like to try a spinach supplement to increase your muscle mass, take it before and after you exercise. When you consume spinach extract before and after your workout you can provide essential nutrients for healthy muscle recovery and growth. This timing ensures that your muscles receive the necessary support for efficient function, recovery and repair.

Aim to consume 200-300g of spinach extract to experience improvements in overall performance during intense muscle-building exercises. Supplements are readily available online and in natural food stores.

Muscle Strength Training Combined with Spinach


Research shows you'll get the best results in your muscle function when you pair your intake of spinach extract with a resistance training program. Studies have shown that combining spinach extract supplementation with moderate-intensity strength training can lead to significant improvements in muscle strength and quality, especially in adults over 50 years old.

A Spanish study discovered that combining spinach extract supplementation with moderate exercise increases the benefits to your muscles and improves your emotional wellbeing. In fact, researchers point to the importance of a healthy lifestyle to maintain skeletal muscle fitness as you age.

These lifestyle strategies are proven to be effective in building and maintaining muscle strength:

  • Resistance training: Engaging in regular resistance training exercises is one of the most important factors for increasing muscle strength and size. This involves using weights, resistance bands, or your bodyweight to create stress on muscles, stimulating them to adapt and grow stronger.

  • Adequate protein intake: Ensure you consume enough protein from various sources (meat, poultry, fish, beans, dairy) throughout the day. Protein provides the essential building blocks for muscle tissue growth and repair.

  • Balanced diet: Maintain appropriate dietary nutrition and eat foods rich in various nutrients like fruits, vegetables, leafy greens and whole grains to provide your body with the necessary energy and resources for overall health and muscle function.

  • Proper rest: Allow your body adequate sleep and recovery time after workouts. This is when muscle repair and growth occur.

By following these guidelines and incorporating spinach extract strategically into your diet and workout routine, you can harness its beneficial properties to support muscle building, strength gains, endurance, and overall physical performance effectively.

Summary

Spinach is one of the best leafy greens for building muscle mass, muscle strength and muscle endurance. Spinach contains three compounds: ecdysterone, betaine, and nitrates, which are linked to improved muscle function and strength. Studies suggest that consuming spinach supplements alongside exercise may lead to greater improvements in muscle health when compared to exercise alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does spinach really help grow muscles?

Spinach is often touted for its health benefits, including muscle growth, largely due to its high nutrient content. Spinach contains iron, which is crucial for the production of hemoglobin that transports oxygen to muscles, aiding in their recovery and growth. It's also rich in betaine and nitrates, which have been shown to improve muscle efficiency and endurance. Moreover, a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism suggested that ecdysterone, a compound found in spinach, can significantly enhance muscle strength.

Do athletes eat spinach?

Yes. Spinach has been controversial for athletes because it contains ecdysterone. This powerful muscle-building compound was banned by the Olympics in the 1980s after Russian athletes were suspected of using spinach extract to boost their performance in the games.

Is spinach a good source of high protein?

No, spinach is not high in protein. However, it is rich in muscle-building nutrients betaine, nitrates, ecdysterone, iron and magnesium. Spinach supplements have been clinically proven to promote muscle growth and strength.

Should I eat spinach before a workout?

When you consume spinach -- or a spinach extract supplement-- before and after your workout you can provide essential nutrients for healthy muscle recovery and growth. This timing ensures that your muscles receive the necessary support for efficient recovery and repair. Aim to consume 200-300g of spinach extract to experience improvements in overall performance during intense muscle-building exercises.

Keller K, Engelhardt M. Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2014 Feb 24;3(4):346-50. PMID: 24596700; PMCID: PMC3940510. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3940510/

Parr MK, Botrè F, Naß A, Hengevoss J, Diel P, Wolber G. Ecdysteroids: A novel class of anabolic agents? Biol Sport. 2015 Jun;32(2):169-73. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1144420. Epub 2015 Mar 15. PMID: 26060342; PMCID: PMC4447764. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4447764/

Coggan AR, Baranauskas MN, Hinrichs RJ, Liu Z, Carter SJ. Effect of dietary nitrate on human muscle power: a systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Oct 9;18(1):66. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00463-z. PMID: 34625064; PMCID: PMC8501726. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8501726/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/isokinetic-dynamometer

https://www.studyfinds.org/spinach-make-muscles-stronger/

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Bone & Muscle Defense

Protects and supports muscle and bone health

$79.95

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