Cruciferous Vegetables Optimise Muscle Growth, Research Suggests

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Protein-rich foods are known for accelerating the repair-and-grow process that follows every killer sandbag circuit, but to harvest greater gains from your weekly shop, add a strategic extra portion of cabbage-related vegetables. Their potent plant compounds could fuel a massive growth spurt, as molecular scientists at the University of Bonn discovered.

Brassicas such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower – also known as cruciferous vegetables – contain a sulfur-rich compound called sulforaphane. Since it’s known to activate antioxidant and anti-inflammatory responses in the body, sulforaphane is already associated with some pretty powerful health benefits, but bulking up isn’t one of them. Until now.

In their test tube study, published recently in the journal Epigenetics, the Italian team tapped into sulforaphane’s unexpected muscle-building potential. When they took cells from pig muscles (very similar to humans) and exposed them to the plant compound, it deactivated myostatin production – a type of protein that slows your gains by putting the brakes on muscle growth. (continued below)

The team couldn’t decipher why or how sulforaphane had this effect, but were extremely optimistic about the potential applications of their findings. “If its effects are verified and applied to in vivo models, sulforaphane may have therapeutic benefits in the treatment of human skeletal muscle disorders and practical value in meat production,” they wrote. That sulforaphane might help you fill out your t-shirt is a welcome bonus.

It’s pretty easy to add sulforaphane-rich veg to your diet. The compound can be found in all cruciferous vegetables, which include watercress, rocket and bok choy. Technically it’s present in the inactive form, called glucoraphanin, which transforms into sulforaphane when the vegetable is chopped, cooked or chewed.

Uncooked veg boasts the most glucoraphanin – in one study, raw broccoli contained a whopping 10 times more sulforaphane than the cooked stuff – but if necking raw kale doesn’t appeal (and who can blame you), lightly steaming veggies for a couple of minutes is a more palatable option.

So, next time you’re piling your plate with chicken, eggs, chickpeas and other muscle-building foods, double down on the Brassicas for greater gains.

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