Be a Healthier You

Spinach makes you big and strong – FACT or FICTION?

Posted on: June 23, 2013

When you think of spinach it might just conjure up the image of a pipe-smoking, can-squeezing, partially tattooed sailor with bulging biceps..

Yep, I’m talking about childhood favourite Popeye!

Popeye

Myth: Spinach gives you big muscle.

Fact or Fiction: Fact.

The science: A review of existing research into the effects of a chemical compound called ‘nitrate’ on human physiology has found that spinach can indeed help to enhance muscle growth (Weitzberg & Lundberg, 2011).  This review was investigated further by the above-named scientists, as part of a research team at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Through experimentation it was observed that nitrate ‘boosts the production of two proteins key to muscle strength’ (Hernandez et al, 2012). Great news for vegetarian bodybuilders!

So, do I need to down spinach Popeye-style?

Yes and no.

Nitrate is found in large concentrations in spinach, but can also be found in beetroot, lettuce, and chard. To achieve optimal results you would need to eat a small bag of spinach, or 2-3 beetroots over the course of a day.

So how about a combination of both and just on the days when you weight train (twice per week for me)?

Not only is this great news for those on a quest to improve health and fitness, it could also mean great medical advances too!

There is potential to improve recovery rates in surgical patients, and to increase functionality in individuals with muscle weakness and muscle disorders if a nitrate-rich diet is adopted.

What was once a fun cartoon playfully extolling the virtues of this unassuming green leaf could now become an iconic part of scientific history, playing a role in medical developments and exercise physiology.

Exciting, huh?

Here’s hoping this great research continues, and that real potential for improving conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and muscle atrophy is identified.

References:

Weitzberg, E. & Lundberg, J.O. (2011) Dietary nitrate – a slow train coming. Journal of Physiology, V.589, Nov, pp.5333-5334.

Hernández, A., Schiffer, T.A.,  Ivarsson, N., Cheng, A.J., Bruton, J.D., Lundberg, J.O., Weitzberg, E. & Westerblad, H. (2012) Dietary nitrate increases tetanic [Ca2+]i and contractile force in mouse fast-twitch muscle. Journal of Physiology,V.590, I15, Aug, pp.3575–3583.

TOMORROW: Do bread crusts really make your hair curl?

Portrait of girl with curly hair

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