Eat your greens. It seems to be a message that has been passed down through mothers to children over endless generations. And it looks like she was right. The nutritional benefits and even cancer preventing properties of broccoli are now well known. However if good health and longevity isn’t reason enough to make broccoli a staple in your diet, then maybe bigger muscles will?

Athletic Advantage Broccoli

Researchers from the Second University of Naples in the molecular biology department have found that broccoli and its relations in the brassica family (sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage as well) stimulate the development of mesenchymal stem cells. While this may not sound overly applicable just yet, consider this in relation to how muscles grow and develop.

Following a resistance-training workout, muscle can grow in two ways.

1. Hypertrophy: The cells within the muscle fibres grow

2. Hyperplasia: The number of cells within the muscle fibres grow

Hormones that bodybuilders take, like IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor), enhance the latter process and it appears broccoli and its relatives do as well.

A workout triggers muscle repair and growth, this requires that muscle cells be available for use. Stem cells, which have the potential to become a variety of other cells, can be used to repair and grow muscle.

Athletic Advantage Broccoli Chart

So while no direct testing has been conducted; a logical jump from the Italians study would indicate that the addition of broccoli in the diet could improve the growth of muscle tissue by increasing the available pool of recourses (mesenchymal stem cells) for the muscle fibres to increase their number of cells and overall size.

A secondary benefit may lie in reducing the effects of aging. Studies show that aging is, in part,  due to age-associated decline in stem cell self renewal, replication and lineage commitment (Sharples and DePinho 2007). As you can see in the quote below, Brassica vegetables may help prevent this process.

“Low doses of R-SFN (the active property linked to Brassica vegetables, see below) promoted MSC (menechymal stem cell) proliferation and protected them from apoptosis (cell death) and senescence (deterioration with age).”

Broccoli builds muscle, and reduces muscle loss

Recent research has been published that makes the case for broccoli’s muscle building potential even greater. Brassica vegetables, such as broccoli, provide your body with sulfaraphane (this is a by-product of a series of conversions, see below*). This new research has found that sulforaphane dramatically reduces the production of myostatin, which is a protein produced by muscle cells that then circulates through the blood killing muscle cells. Since building muscle is a constant battle between trying to build as much muscle as possible, while preventing muscle breakdown, including a myostatin blocker such as broccoli is going to tip the scales further in your favour. Get ready for a new class of supplements in the near future – myostatin blockers. In the mean time, eat your greens.

References

Zanichelli F, Capasso S, Cipollaro M, Pagnotta E, Carteni M, Casale F, Iori R & Galderisi U (2011). Dose-dependent effects of R-sulforaphane isothiocyanate on the biology of human mesenchymal stem cells, at dietary amounts, it promotes cell proliferation and reduces senescence and apoptosis, while at anti-cancer drug doses it has a cytotoxic effect. American Aging Association 34, 281-293

Sharpless NE & DePinho RA (2007). How stem cells age and why this makes us grow old. Nature Reviews Molecular Cellular Biology8(9):703–713

Fan, H., Zhang, R., Tesfaye, D., Tholen, E., Looft, C., Hölker, M., . . . Cinar, M. U. (2012). Sulforaphane causes a major epigenetic repression of myostatin in porcine satellite cells. Epigenetics, 7(12), 1379-1390

*All Brassica vegetables contain glucosinolates like glucoraphanin. Myrosinase (an enzyme released when the vegetables are cut, chewed or lightly cooked) converts the glucosinolates into sulforaphane