Popeye, when he had to pop a bully in the nose, save his lady love, Olive Oyl from a dastardly foe, or halt a  runaway train, ripped open a can of spinach and boom! His biceps popped up and his body pumped up to twice its normal size. One can of spinach and he was ready to conquer.  That was back in 1929, long before athletes were submitted to drug tests or drug scientists understood the molecular biology of steroidal substances on the body’s ability to repair and train harder.

Yet, Popeye’s not-so-secret-weapon  -- spinach -- is now found to contain a compound so strong that scientists are recommending it belongs on the banned list of controlled substances that athletes use to grow muscles and repair damaged fibers quicker -- to be able to enhance performance and return to the field or the track, to create super bodies and win. All that from dainty spinach? Yes, it’s true. The super-powerful substance found in nature in trace amounts, but when you ingest enough of it, it’s so strong that scientists are recommending it be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

A recent study found that Spinach contains a powerful compound called ecdysterone, which is a plant-based steroid believed to be as effective at building muscle as banned substances, according to the Biology of Sport. So what makes this plant so Herculean?

Scientists at the Freie Universität in Berlin, recently announced that they believe a naturally occurring chemical found in spinach, should be added to the World Anti-Doping Authority’s (WADA) list of banned substances because of its potentially steroid-like effects.

Ecdysterone is a steroidal hormone found naturally in spinach, which is the same compound used in steroids, and sold over the counter in protein supplements since the 80s. Ecdysterone is also found in nature in water animals, insects and plants, and proven to be so effective in increasing muscle mass when administered that the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended that it be added to the list of banned substances. It also boasts no known negative effects, as the study showed no rise in toxicity levels of vital organs. 

So how much spinach do we need to eat to gain lean body mass in the form of muscle? The answer is a lot! You’d need an inhuman amount -- like 1,000 servings a day -- to get the same percentage that would be deemed illegal by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but even a small amount of spinach -- steamed or in salads-- is a great idea if what you’re looking to do is get lean and strong.

So are sports organizations planning to ban Spinach? Not according to the experts. Attempting to control the vegetable would be complicated, and difficult to do. 

Our takeaway: Eating at least one serving of spinach a day, by sneaking the power food into smoothies and dinner to help boost muscle mass. Popeye got nothing on you!



More From The Beet