Can eating plant-based foods give your muscles a boost? When you think of muscle-building foods, kale, spinach, and other leafy greens might not come to mind. In fact, you probably don’t think of vegetables at all. But don’t be too quick to dismiss the benefits of plant-based foods! Some veggies may have anabolic properties that support muscle hypertrophy or at least that’s what scientists are exploring.
According to research, a natural compound found in plants may boost muscle hypertrophy. These compounds called brassinosteroids are plant steroids, and they have similar effects to anabolic steroids without the harmful side-effects. We know the synthetic steroids that bodybuilders use have serious risks and side effects, but scientists believe plant-derived anabolic steroids may not carry the same risks.
In fact, researchers believe these natural plant-based growth factors could help treat people with some muscle-wasting diseases rebuild the muscle they’re lost. They may also reduce the loss of muscle mass that comes with aging. We begin to lose muscle mass after the age of 30 and it continues throughout life in those who are sedentary. It’s one reason older people become frail, fall more, and are more prone to poor metabolic health. Could the answer to building lean body mass and preserving muscle mass lie at the produce stand?
Plant Steroids and Muscle Growth
We know it’s important it is to eat fruits and vegetables due to their nutrient density. In fact, leafy greens have one of the highest nutrient densities per calorie of any food, thanks to their rich array of vitamins and minerals. According to the Plus, fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of fiber, a dietary component you don’t get from animal-based foods.
Diets high in fiber may offer some protective health benefits, particularly for cardiovascular disease. For example, an analysis of 58 clinical trials and 185 prospective studies links consuming more fiber with a 15 to 30% reduced risk of dying from heart disease. Plus, some studies correlate greater fiber intake with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
But there’s another component in plants that scientists are interested in. As mentioned, brassinosteroids are plant hormones that boost cell growth and protect plants against stress. However, in humans, they may play an entirely different role. According to Slavko Komarnytsky, Ph.D., a researcher looking at the human health benefits of brassinosteroids, these plant hormones may boost athletic performance and reduce the loss of muscle tissue that comes with aging and some muscle-wasting diseases.
How do researchers know this? When Komarnytsky and his fellow researchers exposed rat muscle cells to homobrassinolide, a type of brassinosteroid, the cells synthesized more protein. In other studies, rats that had been castrated so they had no natural androgens such as testosterone gained muscle strength and muscle size when researchers treated them with homobrassinolide. The drawback is this study applies to rodents and it’s not clear if they’ll have an identical effect in humans. However, scientists believe the benefits are applicable to humans too.
You Get Some Plant Hormones Naturally in Your Diet
Chances are you already get some of these plant steroids in your diet when you eat vegetables. For example, the mustard plant contains significant amounts of homobrassinolide. Unfortunately, you’d have to eat lots of mustard greens to boost muscle strength. The next step is to test these plant hormones in humans. If they boost muscle growth in humans without significant side effects, producers could breed plants so that they produce more brassinosteroids. One day, you may be able to purchase brassinosteroid-rich vegetables as functional foods that help to boost muscle strength and athletic performance.
Nature Has Its Own Solutions
Plants contain a variety of natural chemicals that have health and fitness benefits. The pigments that give them their color are a good source of antioxidants and compounds that reduce inflammation. They’re also rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. That’s why plant-based foods are an important dietary component, especially for people who are active. Plant-based foods help protect cells against oxidative damage that comes from doing high-intensity workouts. They also boost immunity to protect against cold and flu viruses that can keep you on the sidelines.
Here’s the bad news. Most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1 in 10 adults consume 2-3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit daily. What are the most popular vegetables in the American diet? Sadly, it’s potatoes and tomatoes. What about leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and colorful orange and yellow produce rich in beta-carotene? Too many people are missing out on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also states that eating a diet abundant in fruits and vegetables could lower the risk of the most common chronic health problems, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Therefore, there are lots of reasons to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Plus, they supply your muscles with the energy they need in a form that’s easy on your blood sugar.
The Bottom Line?
Don’t forget to include plenty of fresh vegetables in your workout diet. They have a variety of health benefits. Just as intriguing is the fact they contain natural hormones that could help to build muscle. It’s one more reason to get your five-a-day.
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