Popeye Was Right! How Spinach Helps Build Muscle
When you think of muscle-building foods like protein-rich meat or eggs ala the film Rocky may come to mind, but research shows that veggies also play an important role. A new Swedish study concluded that natural compounds found in vegetables like spinach and beets helped mice build stronger muscles.
Natural nitrates (not the synthetic kind used to cure meat like hot dogs) from veggies appear to stimulate muscle proteins at doses that can be obtained by eating a normal diet. In the study the amount fed to the rodents was equivalent to two or three beets or one bunch of spinach, roughly eight ounces.
In another recent post I shared new research about how natural substances in apples have been shown to help build muscle and fight fat. Other studies have also demonstrated the power of produce to help maintain muscle mass. Researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University looked at the link between muscle and potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. After studying nearly 400 men and women for three years they found a pretty powerful effect. Those who ate the most potassium maintained an average of 3.6 additional pounds of muscle compared to those who consumed half as much, a benefit that could offset the 4.4 pound loss of lean tissue typically seen per decade in healthy men and women. Some of the best sources include sweet potatoes, spinach, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beets, bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, and kiwi.
Unfortunately if you added up all of the fruit and veggie servings the average American should have consumed over a lifetime that they did not eat you’d fill an entire football field. If you’re in the majority, and tend to fall short of the recommended two daily fruit and three daily veggie servings, set a goal of fitting in at least one more each day. It may just be one of the best ways to stay lean and strong!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.