Old news for Popeye fans: Spinach extract increases muscle mass

Old news for Popeye fans: Spinach extract increases muscle mass

Popeye knew a thing or two about the invigorating properties of spinach. It boosted his performance as he battled bad guys. As the Sailor Man of yesteryear sang in his cartoons, “I’m strong to the finish ‘cause I eats me spinach.”

Popeye might have been onto something. Scientists now say a spinach extract can make you stronger and boost athletic performance.

German researchers report in the Archives of Toxicology that they separated about 100 young men into two groups who then underwent a strength training program for 10 weeks. During training, one group received a placebo, the other supplements containing ecdysterone [Ek-DIS-terone]. That’s a steroid hormone that occurs naturally in spinach and some other plants.

Ecdysterone supplements have been sold since the 1980s to promote muscle growth, although reports of its benefits hadn’t been verified. Later research in rats indicated the supplements did, in fact, provide a Popeye effect — bulkier muscles, though perhaps nothing as defined as the cartoon character’s club-like forearms.

But strength in a rat does not necessarily equate to strength in a human. That is, until this latest research. In the groups of young men, researchers found that the spinach extract substantially increased muscle mass compared with those taking the placebo.

So, it seems that spinach might help you get muscles like Popeye. Of course, if you want to go Popeye’s path and get this benefit from spinach itself, and not from some supplement, here’s hoping you like spinach — a lot.

To get the same level of ecdysterone as someone receiving a maximum dose in the study, you’d have to eat up to 35 pounds of spinach a day. Yum.

Related Episodes