Does spinach makes you stronger? The effect of spinach on your muscles and your health

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Cartoon hero Popeye got stronger after eating spinach. And what do you think? Research shows that eating spinach is indeed good for your muscles! If only Bluto had known that all these years…

Spinach is best known for its high iron content, but this is partly unjustified. Spinach contains the vegetable non-heme iron and that form is absorbed by the body many times worse than heme iron, which occurs in animal sources. But that doesn’t mean you should put your portion aside on your plate.

Spinach is one of the healthiest vegetables and plays a role in the prevention of many diseases. Spinach contains beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that protects against heart disease and certain cancers. Spinach is also rich in vitamins C and E, two vitamins that also have antioxidant properties. If you want to take advantage of this, you have to eat your spinach raw, because the water-soluble vitamin C in particular is largely lost during cooking.

Seven health benefits of spinach in a row, with the most interesting last.


According to British researchers, you can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14% by eating an extra serving of green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, per day on top of your normal vegetable consumption. The researchers were unable to show a correlation between the risk of diabetes and eating fruits and vegetables in general, but they could show a link between green vegetables and diabetes. Other green vegetables include green cabbage and broccoli.


Eating green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli reduces the risk of developing certain cancers, such as esophageal cancer, stomach cancer and colon cancer. This is due to the high proportion of vitamins and minerals in spinach with an anti-cancer effect. One specific carotenoid, neoxanthine, fights cancer in two different ways. Firstly, by preventing the cancer cells from multiplying. Second, by letting them destroy themselves.


Eating spinach and other green vegetables improves the immune system, the body’s ability to keep pathogens at bay. Such a disease agent can be an ‘harmless’ cold virus, but also a cancer cell. This health benefit can also be traced back to the high doses of antioxidants in green vegetables. Antioxidants protect the body from the effects of harmful free radicals, which occur in polluted air and cigarette smoke, but are also produced by the body itself as a by-product of normal metabolism. Antioxidants neutralize these free radicals and thus play an important role in the prevention of heart disease and certain cancers.


Eating spinach has a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. The dietary fibers in spinach absorb the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, as it were, which deposits itself against your artery walls and thus causes strictures and heart attacks.


Although the bioavailability of the non-heme iron in spinach is lower than in animal iron sources, eating iron-rich vegetables such as spinach is important to prevent anemia. Eating iron-rich foods increases the number of red blood cells and hemoglobin levels, thus improving oxygen transport in the blood. In particular (endurance) athletes and menstruating women have an iron deficiency.


Eating foods rich in insoluble dietary fiber is an effective remedy for diarrhea. Spinach is packed with insoluble dietary fiber, that is, dietary fiber that does not dissolve in the gastrointestinal tract and absorbs water in the intestines like a sponge, thickening the stool. Mind you, don’t overdo it. Too much dietary fiber in your diet actually causes constipation!


Spinach is loaded with nitrates. Nitrate contains one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms. Why are we saying this? You may know nitrogen (Nitrous Oxide or NO) as a bodybuilding supplement. Your body needs NO to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the so-called unit of energy in the body, just as joule is the unit of energy in food.

In a Swedish study published in the Journal of Physiology, mice were given the amount of NO also found in spinach every day for three days. After the study, the oxygen uptake of the mice had increased by 3-5%. A significant difference, in research terms. NO ensures that the muscles deal with oxygen more efficiently. More precisely: the mitochondria, the ‘power stations’ in your cells and muscles, produce energy more efficiently, ie produce the same amount of energy with less oxygen (or more energy with the same amount of oxygen, if you will).

If you now think that this increased oxygen efficiency of your muscles is of little use as a strength athlete – after all, no oxygen is required for a heavy repetition in the bench press – you are wrong. In the study, the muscle mass of the mice that received nitrate-enriched drinking water increased compared to the reference group of mice that received ‘normal’ drinking water. In particular, the number of type I muscle fibers increased, responsible for explosive efforts.

For an effective amount of NO, you should eat one generous serving (200-300 g) of spinach per day. We estimate that after reading this article a lot of bodybuilders will eat spinach in addition to their daily portion of broccoli (with brown rice).

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