16 foods that give you muscles like Popeye

If you learned anything from Popeye, it’s that spinach is the secret to healthy muscles. And, it turns out, you can get some surprisingly good health advice from a cartoon character.

A recent study found that spinach contains a component that can boost your muscle power. But it’s not the component Popeye expected…

Popeye ate spinach because it contains iron. And iron can help your muscles. But you know what’s even better? Nitrates.

I know what you’re thinking… aren’t nitrates bad for you? Well, they can be when extracted in a lab and added to food as a preservative. You’ll find these added nitrates in processed foods like lunch meats and hot dogs. You’ll want to avoid those at all costs because they’ve been linked to cancer.

But in their whole-food form, nitrates can have some health benefits. In fact, 80 percent of the nitrates you consume come from the healthiest food around: vegetables. And eating more of these nitrate-rich vegetables can turn you into a modern-day Popeye because it helps your body produce nitric oxide…

Nitric oxide: Stamina and circulation booster

Researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium found that consuming more nitrate can change your muscles in a way that boosts endurance and strength.

In their study, researchers tested the effect of nitrates on twenty-seven moderately trained athletes performing short but intense cycling sessions three times a week. After just five weeks, nitrates changed the composition of these athlete’s muscle fibers in a way that’s known to enhance athletic performance and endurance.

But what if you’re not an athlete? What if you’re just a regular Joe or Jane with less-than-perfect health? Nitrates can still help you…

A similar study conducted last year by researchers Washington University School of Medicine at showed that beet juice (which is high in nitrates) increased muscle power in people with heart failure. And this improved muscle power kicked in just two hours after drinking the juice.

Peak Organic Femented Beets

It may not be a household word, but nitric oxide has been recognized in over 130,000 published scientific papers as a vital signaling molecule that keeps blood vessels healthy and blood pressure in the healthy range. But as you age, your cells produce less and… MORE⟩⟩


You can enjoy these benefits just by eating the right foods…

Like Popeye, you can get your nitrates from the right vegetables. But, unlike Popeye, you don’t have to rely solely on spinach. Other nitrate-rich vegetables that can boost your muscle power naturally are:

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Leeks
  • Endive
  • Cabbage
  • Fennel
  • Swiss chard
  • Oak leaf lettuce
  • Basil
  • Spring greens
  • Butter leaf lettuce
  • Rhubarb

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  1. De Smet, et al. “Nitrate Intake Promotes Shift in Muscle Fiber Type Composition during Sprint Interval Training in Hypoxia.” Frontiers in Physiology, 2016; 7.
  2. R. Coggan, et al. “Acute Dietary Nitrate Intake Improves Muscle Contractile Function in Patients With Heart Failure.” Circulation: Heart Failure, 2015; 8 (5): 914.
  3. “Nitrites & Nitrates: Are They Harmful Or Actually Healthful?” Prevention. http://www.prevention.com. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  4. “Vegetables Rate by Nitrate.” NutritionFacts.org. http://nutritionfacts.org. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.