Trying to figure out the best vegetables to add to your bodybuilding diet can be tricky and may even lead to you wondering whether spinach is good for muscle growth.
Fortunately, we've compiled everything you need to know about spinach and its nutritional content related to building muscle right here to help you decide whether it's right for your particular diet.
Of course, protein comes into play here as it's an essential part of the building, maintaining, and growing of muscle; however, there are plenty of great foods for protein that cover that side of things.
While spinach does contain some protein, it's definitely not the main reason why spinach might be so beneficial for muscle growth. In actual fact, it's the macronutrients we're interested in that have been linked to various potential performance and training benefits.
So, without further delay, here's everything you need to know about spinach and whether it's good for muscle growth...
To understand why spinach may be such a great addition to your diet, it's important to learn a little bit more about its nutritional value.
On the surface, however, spinach doesn't appear to be a stereotypical food for muscle growth. According to Nutritionix, 100g of spinach contains:
- Calories: 23
- Protein: 3g
- Fat: 0.3g
- Carbohydrates: 3.8g
Don't get us wrong, spinach does contain more protein than most other vegetables; however, it's still relatively low in calories and that extra 3g of protein is unlikely to make a serious impact on your muscle growth.
So why eat spinach? Well, its benefit lies away from its macronutrients and more toward its micronutrient content as it is rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, iron, potassium, and even nitrates. That being said, let's take a closer look at why spinach is good for muscle growth...
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Is spinach good for muscle growth?
As mentioned, there's more to spinach than just its macronutrients, but you have to dig a little deeper to work out why spinach might be beneficial for muscle growth. Here are some of the reasons why we believe it's worth considering...
One of the main reasons why spinach is often considered good for muscle growth is that it contains a naturally-occurring steroid, or phytosteroid, known as ecdysterone.
One double-blind study by the Freie Universität Berlin found, over a 10-week period, participants who took spinach extract and, in doing so, ecdysterone showed a significantly higher increase in maximum muscle strength compared to the placebo group.
The findings were so significant that the researchers have called for the World Anti-Doping Agency to add ecdysterone to its list of banned substances due to its positive effect on athletic performance.
However, don't get ahead of yourself with spinach just yet. The study also points out that you would need to consume anywhere between 250g and 4kg of spinach per day in order to consume the same amount of ecdysterone as one of the “low-dose athletes” in the study.
This is a significant and likely unachievable amount to consume per day, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider adding a least some spinach to your muscle-building diet.
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Another reason why spinach is regarded as good for muscle growth is due to its nitrate content. When consumed, these nitrates are converted by the body into nitric oxide, which plays a crucial role in regulating vascular tone, promoting cardiovascular health, and enhancing overall blood flow. This heightened circulation can have a notable effect on the development of muscle mass. According to Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., nitric oxide may even enhance blood flow to the muscles during exercise, potentially reducing the time it takes for fatigue to set in.
A systematic review by Hoon et al. supports this as the analysis found nitrate supplementation was linked to moderate improvements in constant load time during exhaustion exercises.
Therefore, increasing your intake of nitrates might just help you train longer and harder which, in turn, should lead to an increase in muscle growth, hence why some of the best nitric oxide supplements are marketed as key to improving athletic performance.
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Packed with vitamins and minerals
The list of potentially beneficial nutrients doesn't just stop at nitrates and ecdysterone. No, spinach is packed with a ton of handy vitamins and minerals which may be beneficial for muscle growth.
Specifically speaking, spinach is high in iron, potassium, and vitamins A, C, K, and folate. Interestingly, these nutrients are not too dissimilar to beef liver which, in our opinion, is one of the best foods for powerlifting around.
Several of these nutrients play an important role in strengthening bones. For instance, vitamin K is linked to the calcification of bones which should help them become stronger and, therefore, better prepared to withstand any progress made in the gym using heavier weights.
Iron and folate may also contribute to muscle growth. For example, you're likely to fatigue quicker whilst exercising without enough iron in your body according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
So, upping your iron intake through spinach may help you push for that extra set or two in the gym to further your muscle growth, especially if you team spinach with some of the best food for powerlifting.
In terms of folate, some research suggests a lack of folate negatively impacts strength. One study of note by Lee et al. found a significant association between a lack of folate and a decrease in handgrip strength, thus suggesting to us that consuming more folate may help increase your strength and, in turn, muscle growth over time.
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How much spinach should you eat for muscle growth?
While there isn't a universally agreed-upon limit for spinach consumption specifically targeted toward muscle growth, it is generally considered safe to consume around 400g of spinach when accompanied by a balanced diet. This amount is based on the fact that the highest recommended daily allowance (RDA) value per 100g of spinach is less than a quarter of the recommended overall intake.
However, relying solely on spinach for muscle growth is insufficient as it doesn't provide an adequate amount of protein. To effectively support muscle growth, it is essential to consume additional protein from other sources. Furthermore, optimising various factors such as training, sleep, and managing stress is crucial to maximise performance and progress in the gym.
For instance, a study conducted by Brotherton et al. revealed that sleep deprivation significantly reduced one's performance in exercises like bench press, leg press, and grip strength. This indicates that while diet, including spinach, may contribute to muscular development, they are only a small part of the broader puzzle that encompasses building muscle.