Popeye was onto something: eat spinach for massive gains.

By Tim Nelson
Updated: July 02, 2019

Growing up, there’s a decent chance your parents tried to coax you into eating spinach by asserting that it would make you big and strong. Maybe Popeye, the old-school cartoon sailor who downed spinach and instantly grew muscles, was invoked. If you’re like any sane child, that probably wasn’t enough to overcome the bitter taste of spinach, though.

Well, as with pretty much everything else in life, maybe you should’ve listened to your parents. That’s because new evidence suggests that if you eat enough spinach, it’s basically like taking steroids. 

It sounds crazy, but it’s backed by the results of a scientific study led by a team of researchers from the Institute of Pharmacy at Freie Universität Berlin, with support from the World Anti-Doping Agency (who put together the banned substances list of record).

For ten weeks, 46 men were given either a placebo or a capsule of ecdysterone that was equal to consuming about 8.8 pounds of raw spinach in a day. By the end of the program, the spinach-related #Gainz were readily apparent. The study’s abstract mentions that “significantly higher increases in muscle mass were observed in those participants that were dosed with ecdysterone.” Specifically, it seems that high doses of spinach can help you up your benching max, as “significantly more pronounced increases in one-repetition bench press performance were observed” in the ecdysterone group. 

Even though some of the study’s authors had conducted initial research into the idea of ecdysterone as a performance enhancer a few years earlier, the results exceeded their expectations. "Our hypothesis was that we would see an increase in performance,” study co-author Maria Parr said. “But we didn't expect it to be that big."

As such, the study’s authors “strongly suggest the inclusion of ecdysterone in the list of prohibited substances” monitored by the WADA. According to the organization’s FAQs, a substance can be prohibited if “1. It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance; 2. It represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete; 3. It violates the spirit of sport.” Based on the results of the study, it’d seem that ecdysterone meets the first criteria, though it’s worth pointing out that the study’s authors found “no increase in biomarkers for liver or kidney toxicity” in their results. 

It seems insane to eat eight-plus pounds of raw spinach in a single day. But from what we know about the gargantuan appetites of record-setting Olympians like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, it’s at least within the realm of possibility. There will certainly be more research into ecdysterone before the WADA makes any unilateral decisions. But in the meantime, you might as well go heavy on the spinach if you’re trying to get ripped. 

Advertisement