Remember when Popeye guzzled spinach to gain superhuman strength? Well, his choice of tinned veg was more than a healthy eating tactic. It turns out the surly sailor was sort-of doping, according to interesting new research.
Smirk all you like, but scientists from Freie Universität Berlin were so surprised by the results of their study, they've called for WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) to include ecdysterone - a hormone found in spinach - in the list of prohibited substances for athletes.
During a 10-week study, the team split 46 athletes into four groups to assess how the substance affected their physical performance: one was a control group, another received a placebo, and the remaining groups received a dose of either two or eight capsules each day containing 100mg of ecdysterone extracted from spinach (equivalent to just under 4kg of the green stuff). They all followed the same strength training programme.
Prepare to load up your trolly on your next weekly shop because the results are impressive to say the least. Not only did the men who received the ecdysterone pills develop more muscle mass by the end of the study, but they enjoyed up to three times the strength gains seen among the placebo group participants.
"Significantly higher increases in muscle mass were observed in those participants that were dosed with ecdysterone," the study authors wrote in published notes. "Even more relevant with respect to sports performance, significantly more pronounced increases in one-repetition bench press performance were observed."
Whether ecdysterone will make it onto the banned substances list remains to be seen, but there's certainly nothing to stop you rinsing the vegetable aisle for a hit of plant power.
The muscle-boosting benefits of steroids, without the horrifying side effects, wallet-rinsing expense, and health-destroying consequences? Not half bad for a leaf.