Spirulina: An Athletes Best Friend
Spirulina is a bule-green algae that has been named the new trendy superfood. This is not surprising as it seems like those pop up every week. But this stuff could be the real deal. See my Spirulina 101 article for more. In this article, however, I will address it’s rumored muscle building effect based on a Sao Paulo State University study in Brazil. Lets get one thing straight, this stuff smells like…..well…..dirty….well….I don’t want to offend any women in the audience. Let’s just say, it smells like shit. Before you get too excited about the possible muscle building properties of this algae, remember this: you have to eat somewhere around 60g of this stuff to get around 42g of protein. It is 62-65% protein, but it IS NOT pleasant. The best way to mask this stuff is in smoothies or with OJ.
These Brazilian researchers are saying the spirulina may even be better for your muscles than casein (slow digesting dairy protein). This is quite interesting for us athletes considering casein has been a strategic source of protein for those looking to build muscle by optimizing digestive timing. The Brazilians did the trials with 30-day-old rats. By the time the trial ended, the rats were 90 days old (which in rat years means they are adults).
They divided the animals into two groups.
Group 1: These rats were given a diet where the protein, which was 70% of the energy intake, came from casein protein.
Group 2: These rats were given spirulina as their source of protein in place of the casein.
After the study was done, the researchers noticed a couple differences in the two groups. Production of muscle protein in the soleus (see figure 2) was actually higher in group 2, the ones eating spirulina. (see figure 1)
In the gastrocnemius, which is another part of the calf muscle, group 2 also built more myosin, which is the protein that is known for generating force or otherwise called, “motor proteins.” (see figure 3)
However, they did not look at how much more muscle the group 2 rats built, if any. They measured the ratio of fat, water, and protein between the two groups and there was no different noticed. Large organs can also mean more protein, so it is hard to say if Group 2 had more muscle or not.
Does this mean you need to go to your latest health food store and stock up? Or steal spirulina out of your local fish store? Not quite. Save the looting for when ESPN reports that Lebron James is officially better than MJ. To say anything about the anabolic effect of spirulina, one would have to either weigh the rat’s muscles or measure the nitrogen retained in the two groups.
Animal protein is still the holy grail of muscle building because the amino acids match human amino acid requirements. And, lets not forget, it tastes good. I’m a big fan of spirulina, but the jury is still out on whether I can ditch my protein powder and start scraping my fish tank.