Remember Popeye? The cartoon character who always ate spinach to boost his muscular strength? Well, he may have been on to something. While he should’ve been eating fresh spinach rather than canned, research shows that spinach could have not only boost strength, but also improve fitness levels overall.
So it is True – Spinach Benefits the Muscles
Researchers with the Karolinska Institutet of Sweden found that spinach could help develop muscle strength and fitness levels. Their study found the organic nitrate found naturally in spinach could provide such benefits in as little as three days.
For the study, the researchers gave participants a nitrate equivalent of 200 to 300 grams of spinach each day for three days and then analyzed their muscle activity on a exercise bicycle, comparing samples from their thigh muscles. The researchers found that those who had nitrates experienced a “significant improvement” in the efficiency of their mitochondria (the fuel-burners of the cells) which “consumed less oxygen and produced more of the energy-rich substance ATP per consumed oxygen molecule.”
What this means is this helped the muscle tissue perform more efficiently, potentially leading to muscle growth and toning.
“The mitochondria play a key role in cellular metabolism,” says Professor Eddie Weitzberg, one of the lead researchers on the study. “Improved mitochondrial function probably has many positive effects on the body, and could explain some of the health benefits of vegetables.”
It’s important to note that these benefits come from the organic nitrates found naturally in plant material, not the same nitrates found in processed foods like lunch meats. These compounds, in spinach for instance, provide numerous benefits, some of which we are just beginning to understand. The health benefits of beetroot also tap into this muscle-boosting power, as beetroot also contains a considerable amount of nitrates.
These nitrates produce NO (nitric oxide) in the body which can also help treat diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It’s also capable of reducing blood pressure, something the researchers pointed out and other research also found.
Spinach is widely recognized as one of the world’s most healthful foods. It’s rich in phytonutrients including carotenoids, and is a highly concentrated source of vitamins A and C, among other nutrients. Put the veggie in a salad or cook it lightly, but definitely make sure spinach is part of your regular diet.