Build Muscle with Plants
The average person knows they're supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Exactly why they're supposed to eat more, they probably don't know. And they 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 and if they don't eat them they'll get scurvy and people will mistake them for a bowlegged 18th century pirate, but beyond that, they're largely clueless.
Lifters and body-conscious people in general are usually a little bit more tuned in and they're at least peripherally aware that the various vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals contained in fruits and vegetables are crucial to building a body that both looks good and works well.
However, even the most fruit and vegetable savvy among us might be surprised to find out about the results of a recent study. It seems that a simple dietary strategy using powdered fruits and vegetables grows muscles that are bigger, stronger, and have more endurance.
Scientists from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of South Florida 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 slight larger amount (3%) of a powdered fruit blend.
The veggie and/or fruit powder they used is one that's commercially available and is sold to people to augment their nutrition. The product is similar to Biotest's Superfood, albeit "weaker," with only a third of the number of different fruits and vegetables found in Biotest's product.
(It needs to be noted that 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.)
The human equivalent of what they gave the mice was 20-30 grams, which is right in the ballpark of the recommended daily dose of Superfood.
After 20 weeks, the two groups of mice that were fed the fruit and vegetable powder were physically superior to the control mice in the following ways:
- 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.
- The mice in the powdered fruit and vegetable groups, when forced to run to exhaustion, ran 1.7 and 1.8 times longer, respectively, than the control group.
- The mice in the powdered fruit and vegetable groups also ran about 50% farther than the mice in the control group.
- The mice in the powdered fruit and vegetable groups 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, and the 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 seems to play a crucial role in resistance-overload-induced hypertrophy, among other things.
- PGc-1-alpha – This substance seems to play a role in the biogenesis of slow-twitch muscle fibers rather than fast-twitch muscle fibers.
- PPAR delta – This molecule is an important regulator of skeletal muscle metabolism.
- AMPK – This enzyme is another potent regulator 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 of course 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 can be attributed to the polyphenols they contain and NOT the vitamins they contain.
Polyphenols are a diverse class of large molecules that have biological effects involving detailed biochemical interactions that we've only just started to understand.
Regardless of the exact mechanism, polyphenols reduce inflammation. They prevent platelet aggregation (clotting). They lower blood pressure. They protect against exercise-induced oxidative stress. They increase insulin sensitivity. They reduce cholesterol. They prevent cancer. And they fight cancer once it strikes.
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 any gargantuan combination of whole fruits and vegetables is going to make your muscles grow by 40 to 50 percent in 20 weeks or, for that matter, any amount of time.
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, to some undefined degree, to contributing to gains in muscle and muscle performance.
Again, to replicate the approximate dosage of powdered fruits and vegetables used in the Florida study, use two scoops of Superfood, twice a day, mixed in yogurt, your protein shake, in baked goods, your oatmeal, or anywhere else convenient you can think of.
- Yu J et al. The Effect of Diet on Improved Endurance in Male C57BL/6 Mice. Nutrients 2018;10(8):1101.