Fruits and vegetables help you build muscle, get stronger, and boost endurance. Here’s the new science.
Most people probably don’t think eating more plants will help them build muscle. Sure, they might have some understanding that fruits and vegetables will help them live longer, but beyond that, they’re largely clueless.
But even the most nutritionally savvy among us might be surprised to find out about the results of one study. It seems that a simple dietary strategy using powdered fruits and vegetables grows muscles that are bigger, stronger and have more endurance, and it has nothing to do with protein or vitamins.
Scientists divided young male mice into three different groups:
The control group received standard mouse chow for 20 weeks.
A second group received a slightly modified version of the chow – same basic stuff, but with a small (2%) amount of a powdered blend of fruit and vegetables.
The third group received the same chow but with a slightly larger amount (3%) of a powdered fruit blend.
The veggie and/or fruit powder they used is commercially available and sold to people to augment their nutrition. The product is similar to Biotest’s Superfood (on Amazon) albeit “weaker,” with only a third of the number of different fruits and vegetables found in Biotest’s product. (By the way, the company that makes the powdered fruit and vegetable blend didn’t pay for this study, which is always nice as it adds more credibility to the results.)
After 20 weeks, the two groups of mice that were fed the fruit and vegetable powder were physically superior to the control mice:
The mice in the powdered fruit and vegetable groups had muscles that were around 1.4 and 1.45 times larger, respectively, than the control group. When forced to run to exhaustion, they ran 1.7 and 1.8 times longer, too. They also ran about 50% farther. Finally, they exhibited greater grip strength than mice in the control group.
When the scientists dove into the biochemistry of what the supplemented mice had done, they found some wild stuff. The fruit and vegetable extracts increased the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells of the mice. Mitochondria are responsible for churning out ATP, the energy currency of cells, in addition to pumping out enzymes that convert food into cellular energy.
The powdered mix also activated the following “signal molecules,” all intimately involved in the way muscle behaves and functions:
SIRT 1 – This molecule plays a crucial role in resistance-overload-induced hypertrophy, among other things.
PGc-1-alpha – This substance plays a role in the biogenesis of slow-twitch muscle fibers rather than fast-twitch muscle fibers.
PPAR delta and AMPK – These molecules are important regulators of skeletal muscle metabolism.
It used to be that we thought the fruits and vegetables we ate were good for us because of the vitamins they contained, or their crunchy fiber. While those attributes are great, they’re not what make these plants magical, and they’re not what caused the muscles of the mice in the experiment to get bigger and stronger.
Instead, most of the disease-fighting, health-promoting, and muscle-building attributes of fruits and vegetables are attributed to the polyphenols they contain and NOT the vitamins. Polyphenols are a diverse class of large molecules that have biological effects involving detailed biochemical interactions that we’ve only just started to understand.
Polyphenols reduce inflammation. They prevent platelet aggregation (clotting) and lower blood pressure. They protect against exercise-induced oxidative stress. They increase insulin sensitivity and reduce cholesterol. They help fight cancer.
And now, it seems, they grow muscle and improve muscular endurance. Let me quickly add, though, that I don’t believe eating Superfood, a product like it, or a gargantuan amount of whole fruits and veggies will make your muscles grow by 40 percent in 20 weeks.
Still, this study is yet another piece of evidence that plant polyphenols, when taken regularly and in sufficient amounts, have the potential to work all kinds of great magic on your body and its systems, and that includes contributing to gains in muscle and muscle performance.
To replicate the approximate dosage of powdered fruits and vegetables used in the study, use one scoop of Superfood (on Amazon) twice a day, mixed in yogurt, your protein shake, in baked goods, your oatmeal, or anywhere else.