How To Eat Spinach For Muscle Gain (Is It A Steroid?)

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Spinach has long since been associated with muscle and strength.  

Remember the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor?


But what does the science say about spinach?

Is there any evidence that eating spinach will ACTUALLY help pack on muscle?

Key Takeaways

  • Although spinach barely has calories or protein, a component called ecdysterone may offer modest muscle strength and growth benefits. Also, since spinach is high in antioxidants, it reduces inflammation, possibly supporting muscle recovery post-workout.
  • Spinach also contains nitrates, which get converted to nitric oxide in the body. This natural substance acts as a vasodilator (widening blood vessels), allowing more blood (with nutrients and oxygen) to enter the muscles, boosting performance and recovery.
  • If you’re in a cutting phase, spinach is ideal because it fills you up without adding too many calories to your total. As such, you feel fuller between meals and can more easily stick with the necessary caloric restriction for fat loss.

Raw Spinach: Overview

nutritional content of one cup of raw spinach 30 grams


Spinach is a low-energy-dense food (i.e., it has fewer calories per serving). One cup (30 grams) provides a mere 7 calories. 

This makes spinach ideal during a cut because it fills up your stomach and makes you feel satisfied without adding many calories to your total.

As a result, you can more easily stick with your diet and reach your goals than if you constantly eat high-energy-density foods that provide a lot of calories but don’t fill you up as much.


Due to its low energy density, spinach doesn’t provide significant protein or carbs.

One cup provides a single gram of carbohydrates (mostly fiber), just 0.8 grams of protein, and 0 grams of fat.

The fiber in a cup of spinach covers just 2-2.5% of the recommended daily intake.

What does this mean for bodybuilders? 

Since spinach has less than a gram of each macronutrient (carb, protein, and fat), spinach is considered an “unlimited” food. 

You can eat as much as you want without tracking it toward your overall daily caloric intake.  


While spinach is low in calories and macros, it’s exceptionally high in vitamins, which is why it’s often called a superfood.

It has almost all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. 

Here are the top nutrients spinach provides and how they aid a bodybuilder:

  • Vitamin A (92% of daily needs per cup). It is a powerful antioxidant that helps decrease inflammation, which may improve muscle recovery. Additionally, it helps boost your immune system, which may protect you from the common cold, allowing you to train more consistently.
  • Vitamin K (120% of daily needs for men and 160% for women per cup). It plays a unique role in bone metabolism. Stronger bones make you more resistant to injuries during training.
  • Folate (15% of daily needs per cup). It plays an essential part in energy production (helping turn the carbs you eat into usable energy). You wouldn’t be able to move without it and other vitamins from the B complex.

Interested in learning more about how veggies benefit bodybuilders? Check out my article on the Best Vegetables For Building Muscle.

Raw Spinach vs. Cooked Spinach: Persevering The Muscle Building Benefits

Raw or cooked, spinach has the same macronutrient composition. The difference comes when we talk about the micronutrient composition. 

Some nutrients, like calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, and B vitamins, are lost during cooking.

However, you can prevent this with the correct cooking method. 

Microwaving and steaming preserve the nutrients better than boiling, frying, or baking.  

For example, boiling spinach can result in a  50% loss of vitamin C content compared to 11% when steamed

3 Pros Of Eating Raw Spinach

pros of eating raw spinach

Avoids Hunger

Since spinach is mostly fiber, it helps increase satiety, keeping you full between meals. This is because fiber delays gastric emptying (the rate at which food leaves your stomach). 

Adding spinach to your smoothies, eggs, or as a side salad can help keep your hunger levels at bay (without adding additional calories).

Improves Muscle Growth

Spinach can improve muscle growth in two ways: 

1. First, spinach has nitrates.

Nitrates are found naturally in leafy greens like spinach and kale and are turned into nitric oxide, which helps dilate your blood vessels

This means more blood can go to your muscles, delivering more oxygen and nutrients. As a result, your muscles recover better.

2. Second, spinach has a natural steroid called ecdysterone. 

This component is linked to muscle strength, power, and performance improvements.

In a study done over 12 weeks, people were given a spinach extract to see if there was muscle improvement. 

When all other aspects of the participants’ diet were controlled, at the end of the study, participants had a 2% increase in physical performance.

Note: This study was done on adults over 50, and 83% of the participants were women. So, further research is needed to study the impacts of spinach on other populations.


One of the most significant benefits of spinach is its nutrient density, which means you get a good deal of essential nutrients in a relatively small serving.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for immune system function, decreasing inflammation for better recovery, and helping the body convert food into energy. 

Many bodybuilders are simply concerned with the number of calories and macros they consume without giving enough thought and attention to their micronutrients.  

However, the micronutrients in foods like spinach allow you to maintain optimal health and bodily functions.

2 Cons of Eating Raw Spinach

cons of eating raw spinach

Possible Pesticide Contamination

Along with strawberries, spinach is at the top of the Dirty Dozen list created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The list includes fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue. Pesticides are substances used in agriculture to protect crops. 

The problem is that regular pesticide consumption is thought to build up in the body and increase the risk of health problems, including gut disruptions and impaired immunity.

One way to reduce pesticides in spinach is to soak it in a water solution with:

  • Salt (a teaspoon per two cups of water)
  • Vinegar (four parts water to one part vinegar)
  • Bicarbonate or soda (a teaspoon per two cups of water)

Soak the spinach for 20 minutes and rinse with water.

Nutrient Competition

Spinach can interfere with the ability to absorb other nutrients because a compound called oxalic acid can bind to magnesium, calcium, and zinc, making them unavailable for absorption. 

Additionally, having too many oxalates in your diet can potentially trigger kidney stones or gout.

For those prone to kidney stones, I recommend limiting intake to two cups of high-oxalate foods per day (including spinach, berries, coffee, chocolate, and kale). 

Here is a bit of insight from Kris Gunnars, Founder of Authority Nutrition:

“Kidney stones are caused by acid and mineral salt buildup. The most common variety is calcium stones, which consist of calcium oxalate. Spinach is high in both calcium and oxalates.”

Can You Eat Spinach Before Workouts?

Eating spinach before working out can help dilate blood vessels so more oxygen and nutrients are carried into your muscles. 

This can offer some performance benefits for your workout. 

However, spinach lacks carbs, which are necessary for energy and performance.  

Therefore, you need to add a carb source, such as oatmeal, fruits, or quinoa.

Research recommends having up to a gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight before training.

Can You Eat Raw Spinach After Workouts?

Spinach is a great choice to include after training, as its antioxidants help reduce inflammation and may lead to better muscle recovery. 

However, you still need carbs, protein, and calories in your post-workout meal, which spinach cannot provide. 

General guidelines dictate to get 0.3 to 0.5 grams of protein and carbs per kilogram of body weight after training. For someone weighing 70 kilograms (154 lbs), that would be a target of 21 to 35 grams of protein and carbs. 

So, while you can have spinach post-workout, have it alongside quality protein (e.g., meat, egg whites, leaner fish like tilapia, and low-fat cottage cheese) and carbs (e.g., rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, and fruits).

How To Eat Spinach For Muscle Gain: 3 Tips For Incorporating Spinach Into Your Diet

tips for incorporating quinoa into a bodybuilding diet

Add It To Your Shakes

One way to have your spinach is to add it to your shakes, improving your nutrient intake, especially if you’re not a big fan of salads.

Also, shredding the spinach in a blender makes it easier to digest, which can be particularly beneficial pre-workout to avoid feeling uncomfortably full.

To save time during your day, you can create packets of your favorite smoothie ingredients and place them in the freezer. 

That way, with everything portioned (fruits and veggies), it will be easier for you to grab and go.

Don’t Mix Spinach With Dairy

Iron in spinach and calcium in dairy compete for the same transportation system. Calcium has been shown to decrease iron absorption by an average of 50%

Therefore, when you are having spinach, make sure to avoid any dairy product that is high in calcium to prevent nutrients from not being absorbed.

For example, use almond-based milk when adding spinach to a smoothie or protein shake.

Have It As A Salad Base

Instead of having lettuce as a base for a salad, switch it up for spinach because it has a richer nutritional profile.

Add a teaspoon of olive oil and massage the spinach for a couple of minutes to increase the nutrient intake and make it smoother.

You can even do this with fresh spinach to make it softer and more digestible.

Here are some quick tips from registered dietitian Cynthia Sass:

“If you’re making a grain bowl, place a handful of spinach on the bottom and flip the portion sizes of the greens and grains to up your intake of vegetables. Blend spinach into anything from a fruit smoothie to pancakes to hummus, and add it to soups, veggie chili, and tacos.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Spinach Like Steroids?

Ecdysterone is a natural steroid found in spinach. While it’s claimed to have ‘steroid-like’ effects, its potential benefits have been demonstrated in limited research. 

Plus, the effects don’t appear to be nearly as significant as those of actual steroids.

Does Spinach Get You Ripped?

Spinach can be a great addition to a fat-loss diet because it barely has any calories but can fill you up and reduce hunger throughout the day.

Does Spinach Have Protein?

​​Spinach doesn’t have a significant amount of protein, with one having less than a gram.

If you’re a bodybuilder looking to increase your protein intake, opt for protein-rich foods for protein shakes, eggs, chicken, fish, meat, or Greek yogurt.

Learn More About Other Vegetables For Bodybuilding:


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About The Author

Brenda Peralta

Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist.  In addition to being an author for, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.

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