Can You Eat Spinach For Muscle Growth

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Exercise, muscle growth

Was Popeye Right?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

can eat spinach for muscle growthYou may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that eating spinach will make you stronger. The more “mature” adults among my readers may remember the Popeye cartoons of our youth. Every time Popeye was on the brink of disaster he would down a can of spinach and become superhuman. Was Popeye right? Can spinach actually improve strength and endurance?  Can you eat spinach for muscle growth?  To answer those questions, I analyzed the study behind the headlines.

The short answer is that there may be some truth to the headlines, but you would never be able to prove it from the study they quoted.

Even worse, this study and the headlines it generated are typical of the sports nutrition marketplace. There are far too many headlines and sports nutrition products based on weak and inconclusive studies.

Spinach for Muscle Growth?

spinachLet’s start at the beginning. In the first place the study behind the headlines (De Smet et al., Frontiers In Physiology, 7: 233-244, 2016) did not actually use spinach. In fact, participants were advised to avoid nitrate-rich foods like spinach and beets during the study.

The study enrolled moderately-trained male students from the University of Leuven in Belgium. All the participants completed 5 weeks of sprint interval training (SIT) consisting of 30 second sprints followed by 4.5-minute recovery intervals on an exercise cycle. This was repeated 4-6 times per session 3 times per week.

One group took a sodium nitrate supplement containing 400 mg of nitrate 30 minutes before each workout. The other group received a placebo. There were only 9 students in each group. [I have simplified the study design for the purposes of this discussion. There were other aspects of the study, but they are not relevant to our discussion.]

The investigators measured maximum oxygen consumption (a measure of exercise efficiency and endurance), maximum power output during a 30-second sprint, and composition of quadriceps muscle fibers both before the 5-week training started and again when it was completed.

The results were disappointing:

  • thumbs downNitrate supplementation caused a modest increase in fast twitch (type IIa) muscle fibers compared to placebo. That is a physiological response that may (or may not, depending on who you believe) allow high intensity exercise to be sustained for longer without fatigue.
  • Nitrate supplementation failed to show any significant benefit for any other measure of exercise capacity. In particular, no effect of nitrate supplementation was observed on:
    • Maximum oxygen consumption
    • Maximum power output
    • Peak heart rate
    • Time to exhaustion.
    • Various metabolic markers of exercise efficiency

In spite of these largely negative results, the authors concluded: “The current experiment demonstrated that oral nitrate supplementation during short-term sprint-interval training increased the proportion of type IIa muscle fibers, which may contribute to enhanced performance in short maximal exercise events…”

“May” is the operative word here. Their data did not provide any evidence that nitrate supplementation actually improved performance.

Online headlines (the kind of nutrition information most people read) took it a step further. For example, one headline claimed “Spinach Can Boost Your Physical Fitness and Muscle Strength.” That headline came out of thin air.

Sports Nutrition Myths

mythsUnfortunately, this study is typical of many of the sports nutrition studies I have reviewed over the years. Most of them are very small studies. In many of them only one or two measure exercise performance change, while other measures show no effect of supplementation.

That doesn’t stop bloggers from hyping the studies and creating sports nutrition myths. It also doesn’t stop companies from offering sports products with those ingredients and making outrageous claims about how their product will make you bigger, faster, and stronger.  For example, a claim that you can eat spinach for muscle growth.

It is only when dozens of studies have been published, and a meta-analysis combines the data from all the studies that we are in a position to see whether any particular nutrient has a statistically significant effect on performance.

Must You Eat Spinach for Muscle Growth or Could Nitrates Provide Exercise Benefits?

nitrates and exerciseDespite the weakness of this particular study, there is reason to believe that nitrates might improve exercise performance.

  • There is a plausible mechanism. In the body nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which improves arterial health, lowers blood pressure, and enhances blood flow. Increased blood flow to the muscles could enhance exercise efficiency.
  • Other studies have come to a similar conclusion. There are several other exercise studies Health Benefits of Beetroot Juice involving supplements containing either nitrates or beetroot juice (which is rich in nitrates) that have suggested that supplementation improves exercise efficiency. Each of the studies are small and inconclusive by themselves, but in the aggregate they suggest that nitrate may have some benefits.
  • Arginine, which also enhances nitric oxide production, is well established in the sports nutrition world. There are dozens of published exercise studies involving arginine and meta-analyses of these studies suggest that arginine provides modest benefits. However, there is an important caveat, which I shall explain below.

In short, the idea that nitrate supplementation might improve exercise performance is plausible. However, plausible is a long way from proven.

The Ultimate Irony

When you analyze the meta-analyses of arginine supplementation and exercise performance studies, the ultimate irony is that arginine supplementation is most effective for untrained individuals who are just beginning an exercise program. It provides little benefit for trained athletes (R. Bescos et al, Sports Medicine, 42: 99‐117,2012).

There is a logical explanation for this observation. Intense exercise also enhances nitric oxide production and blood flow to the muscle. Most highly trained athletes have already maxed their nitric oxide levels and have excellent blood flow to their muscles. Arginine (or nitrate) supplementation provides little additional benefit for them.

Why do I call this the ultimate irony? Think about it for a minute.

The people most likely to use sports supplements with arginine or nitrate are gym rats and highly trained athletes – the people who get the least benefit from those supplements.

The people least likely to use special sports supplements with arginine or nitrate are the weekend warriors and the busy professionals who are just trying to stay fit – the people who are most likely to benefit from those supplements.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • Recent headlines have suggested that you can eat spinach for muscle growth and exercise performance.
  • When you look at the study behind the headlines, the study was done with nitrate, not with spinach. Spinach is a nitrate-rich food (as are beet roots), but the headlines were clearly misleading.
  • The study was also inconclusive. It was a small study, and most parameters of exercise performance were not affected by nitrate supplementation.
  • Unfortunately, this kind of small, inconclusive study is all too common in the sports nutrition literature. That doesn’t stop bloggers from hyping the studies and creating sports nutrition myths. It also doesn’t stop companies from offering sports nutrition products with those ingredients and making outrageous claims about how their product will make you bigger, faster, and stronger.
  • However, other studies suggest the idea that nitrate in food or supplements could improve exercise performance is plausible.
  • In our bodies, nitrate is converted to nitric oxide, which enhances blood flow to the muscles.
  • Other studies with nitrate and with beetroot juice (an excellent source of nitrate) have shown some exercise benefits.
  • Arginine, which is also converted to nitric oxide, is a fairly well established sports supplement.

Of course, plausible is a long way from proven.

  • The ultimate irony is that the people most likely to use sports supplements with arginine or nitrates are gym rats and highly trained athletes. They already have excellent blood flow to their muscles. They are the people who get the least benefit from those supplements.
  • In contrast, the people least likely to use special sports supplements with arginine or nitrates are the weekend warriors and the busy professionals who are just trying to stay fit. Those are the people who are most likely to benefit from those supplements.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Eye Pain Relief

Posted August 20, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

A Simple Treatment To Make Your Eye Pain Disappear

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT –The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

good newsAs the song goes: ”…Summertime and the living is e-a-s-y….”  Here in Florida we know that the living is easy because it’s so hot who wants to be doing anything except either sitting in the shade, or inside in the air conditioning.  Personally, I don’t think this summer was so bad, especially the evenings, but then, I really hate the cold so maybe my opinion is biased.

To stay in alignment with “living is easy,” I’m taking the advice of a few experts who teach easy ways to stay calm, motivated, and happy.  I’m taking a 30-day break from the news.  It’s so much in my face lately that it’s really affecting me in a very negative way.  So far, I’m two days into my 30 days.

I’ve decided that I want to take away some of the stress that seems to be normal for everyone. To that end I was listening to a speaker who was talking about the dangers of stress and what it does to the body.  Really frightening! He was saying that negative news sells and, for example, in the 1990’s in one city of the USA, homicides had gone down 42%, but the local TV station increased its coverage of homicides by 700%.  It’s only gotten worse in 2019.  It’s making us think we live in a dangerous country, and it sure isn’t helping our blood pressure.

To solve that problem, this speaker recommended going on a “news fast” for 30 days. Absolutely no negative news of any kind for a full month.  I’m surrounded by news all day so it’s a challenge, but I’ve found a great substitute:  www.GoodNewsNetwork.org.  Their mission is to be an antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in the mainstream media.

So, I want to share this with you, and if you have any other good news stations/websites you love, please feel free to share it with me.

I think I’m off to the beach with a big umbrella and a thermos of ice-cold tea!  Living the e-a-s-y life!

Have a relaxing month!

 

Eye Strain And Eye Pain

 

eye pain reliefThis week I had a client come to the office with a situation that is pretty rare.  He described his pain as on his eyeball, which then referred to the entire top half of his skull.  It was like drawing a line that went under his eyes, through his ears, and around his head.  It was definitely a headache but concentrated on his eyes.  He was in desperate need of eye pain relief.

This client works in an industry that has the computer screen changing frequently and he’s needing to locate information on the new screen quickly.  He has experienced eye strain before, but other times just having the weekend off has resolved the problem.  This time the pain didn’t go away.

We don’t ever think about the muscles that move our eyes, but they can get repetitively strained just like any other muscle in the body.  This especially happens if you are watching something that has your eye moving back and forth rapidly, like a game on your computer or phone.

The muscles that are most prone to a repetitive strain injury are the ones on the top of the eye and on the outside of the eye.  I’m not an eye doctor so I can’t explain why these two muscles cause more problems than the others, but my experience has shown this to be the truth.

 

Eye Pain Relief

 

eye pain relief massageThe treatment is simple, but you need to do it cautiously.  If you wear contacts, you’ll need to remove them. The pressure is VERY light.

Put your fingertip directly onto your eyeball and press down GENTLY.

Slide your finger from the top of your eyeball to the outside of your eyeball.

If you find a point where it is tender, that’s the spasm that is putting a strain on your eyeball.  Just leave your fingertip on that point for 30 seconds.

You may even get a light show while doing this, with different shapes and colors.

You’ll find that this simple treatment will soothe tired eyes at the end of the day.  But remember, the pressure needs to be light and gentle.

Why stay in pain when it’s so easy to find the muscular source of the problem and eliminate it?

 

 

Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living (https://julstromethod.com/product/treat-yourself-to-pain-free-living-hardcopy/) is filled with over 100 pictures pain free living bookand descriptions proven to show you how to find and self-treat muscle spasms from head to foot!

Join the 1000’s of people worldwide who have discovered that tight muscles were the true source of pains they thought were from arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other serious conditions.  You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by releasing tight muscles.

 

Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living is your step-by-step guide to pain relief!

 

 

Wishing you well,

 

Julie Donnelly

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

About The Author

julie donnellyJulie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

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