Foods with anabolic steroids:

The most affordable and accessible foods with the highest concentrations of phytoecdysteroids are spinach, quinoa, and suma root.  These plants contain high amounts of a powerful and naturally occurring form of phytoecdysteroid known as b-ecdysterone or 20-hydroxyecdysone.  

Yes, you read correctly, it’s a steroid.  There’s no need for alarm though – I’m not pushing any strange drugs to help pay for my master’s degree.  Actually, after researching phytoecdysteroids, I’m convinced that these little molecules are something we should have more of in our diets.  Some of the claimed benefits of phytoecdysteroids include: anabolic, adaptogenic, hepatoprotective, and hyperglycemic effects.  Below are the approximate amounts of b-ecdysterone contained in the richest food sources:

Spinach:          .01% of fresh weight = 45 mg b-ecdysterone in 450g spinach [1]
-Spinach is also rich in a vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and naturally occurring nitrates.  Plant-based nitrates can be converted by the body into nitric oxide, which is used to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow.  Bodybuilders often take nitric oxide supplements to support muscle growth and athletic performance. 

Quinoa:           .037% of dry weight = 18.25 mg b-ecdysterone in 50g quinoa [2]
-Quinoa is a relative of the spinach plant and is high in minerals, protein, and fiber.  It can be used like a grain but is gluten-free.

Suma root:      .66% of dry weight = 26.4 mg b-ecdysterone in 4g of root powder [3]
(pfaffia paniculatta) The suma plant, also known as Brazilian Ginseng, is a traditional medicine in Brazil.  It’s known to be effective at alleviating so many health problems that it’s called “para todo” – for everything.  Suma is high in a number of powerful compounds including beneficial saponins.  You can get a 1lb bag of suma powder from  Epic Herbs.

When the word “steroid” is heard or read, it’s usually associated with the synthetic, anabolic-androgenic steroid that some athletes use to build muscle or improve performance.  There are many other steroids, however, that are naturally produced in the body and required for proper health: cholesterol, testosterone, and estrogen are the most well known.  Steroids are simply hormones that send messages to the body’s cells.  Different steroids produce different responses.  Humans, animals, and plants all use a number of varoious steroids.

Some plant-eating insects produce and use a group of steroids called ecdysteroids.  Yet, too much of the hormone can cause them problems.  Plants such as spinach, quinoa, and suma, use this biological principle to their advantage.  These plants contain high amounts of hormones that are nearly identical to ecdysteroids (known as phytoecdysteroids) — consequentially, insects that eat these plants can experience a hormonal overload that disables and deters them from continuing to eat the same plants.

In mammals, however, phytoecdysteroid consumption appears to have primarily highly positive effects.  In the 1970s and 80s, Soviet scientist were the first to study the effects of phytoecdysteroids in humans, and it’s suspected that a few Soviet athletes benefited from their findings.  Today, American scientists are performing further phytoecdysteroid studies and beginning to unlock the mysteries of how these powerful hormones work.

In a study done at Rutgers, rats given food containing Spinach extract (containing the equivalent of 50 mg 20-hydroxyecdysone/kg of body weight) had 24% stronger gripping strength at the end of 28-days than rats fed the same food without spinach extract. The rats fed the spinach extract also had slightly stronger gripping strength than rats given traditional anabolic-androgen steroids (the type often used by bodybuilders)!  The same study also used human muscle cell cultures to determine how the cells would respond to phytoecdysteroids.  Treatment with 20-hydroxyecdysone resulted in up to a 20% increase in protein synthesis and also caused decreased protein degradation (which can help improve overall protein gains in muscle).[4]

The greatest concern for most people, when talking about steroids, is the negative androgenic side effects associated with other anabolic (muscle enhancing) steroids, such as prostate growth and breast tissue development in men, and voice deepening and hair growth in women.  Common experience with phytoecdysteroids indicates that while they have powerful anabolic activity, they don’t have the negative side effects associated with anabolic-androgen steroids. Moreover, in the Rutgers study mentioned above, it was found that 20-hydroxydysone did not cause prostate growth like synthetic anabolic steroids did.  This may be attributed to phytoecdysteroids having a shape that prohibits them from binding to cells’ androgenic receptors (the receptors that trigger prostate and hair growth, etc).

At any rate, spinach, quinoa, and suma are all incredibly safe, whole foods! Several studies in addition to the Rutger’s study indicate that phytoecdysteroids have many promising health benefits.  Not only have they been show to increase strength and anabolic activity in mammals, they may also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce visceral fat, aid memory, and improve wound healing efficiency.  The good news is that many of the effects of phytoecdysteroids appear to be achieved at relatively low daily doses: between .5 and 5/mg of 20-hydroxydysone per kg of body weight.  Also, you would have to eat over a hundred pounds of spinach per day before you consumed potentially toxic amounts. On the other hand, if you want to supplement with 20-hydroxyecdysone, there are a number of 20-hyroxyecdysone powders and capsules available.[5][6]

So, while the evidence for phytoecdysteroids is still unfolding, it seems like Popeye was right after all… “Eat your spinach kids!”

You might also be interested in: “How much protein do I need to build muscle?”

Related Products: Suma, Spinach Powder, QuinoaEcdysterone, Creatine, Whey Protein, Glutamine


[1] Phytoecdysteroids: Understanding Their Anabolic Activity by Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman at Rutgers
[2] Ecdysteroids from Chenopodium quinoa Willd., an ancient Andean crop of high nutritional value
[3] Level and distribution of 20-hydroxydysone during Pfaffi glomerata development
[4] Phytoecdysteroids: Understanding Their Anabolic Activity by Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman at Rutgers
[5] Effects and applications of arthropod steroid hormones (ecdysteroids) in mammals.
[6] Practical uses for ecdysteroids in mammals including humans: an update

  19 comments for “Foods with anabolic steroids:

  1. Benji Vulao
    November 25, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Okay, I do think spinach is pretty healthy and I used to eat the whole small frozen boxes they come in.. until I got a kidney stone 🙁

    I’m not saying it’s the spinach, per se, or that everyone eating spinach will have this happen, and there are oxalates in many foods.. yet spinach is crazily high in oxalate, a necessary component of calcium oxalate stones, by far the most common type.

    Basically, I wanted to just warn people of this and give some advice at prevention, in order of importance..

    1. Drink enough water which keeps the concentration of all types of minerals in check, making them less likely to combine and flushes them from your system more quickly. It’s very easy to become dehydrated. Anything that is liquid counts, it doesn’t actually have to all be water.

    2. Get enough magnesium in your diet which inhibits oxalate and calcium from combining to form stones.

    3. Lower your salt intake. High levels of salt push calcium into the kidneys where it can combine with oxalate.

    4. Consume oxalate rich foods with a good amount of calcium at the same time you eat the food. This might seem counterintuitive, but it is far better for the calcium to combine with the oxalate in the stomach, rather than the oxalate going into the kidneys. For spinach, milk and cheese are good calcium sources. But if you cannot include calcium from food, take a supplement WITH the meal, if possible. DO NOT take large doses of calcium through supplements after the meal has been processed by your body and the oxalate is already in your kidneys as this can actually create favorable conditions for stone formation. Also, do not take calcium supplements against the advice of your doctor.

    5. Finally.. simply eliminate or lower the intake of oxalate rich foods from your diet. Rhubarb, beets and spinach are serious offenders but chocolate, tea, blueberries and cranberries also have some oxalate. If you have no history of stone formation, this probably isn’t necessary at all.

    • Gail
      May 31, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Are there any supplements/powders out there that have the combination of Quinoa, Spinach, and the Suma Root? I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and steroids help, but I really hate taking them, and I’m definitely not taking them long term. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  2. July 31, 2015 at 3:39 am

    Excited about reading about all this plant steroid stuff…..Have even heard that some of these ectosteroids can be as effective as D-bol in some instances, so as an aging bodybuilder I will be giving this a try. Heard that celery and mustard is full of this stuff, too…….OK……so I’m gonna make a salad of Quinoa, celery, spinach and as much mustard as I can handle, sprinkled with suma root powder as and when I can find some! Don’t think this’ll taste too great, but am gonna force myself to eat 3 small portions a day for a month and see hows I get on! Just wondering though, will boiling up the Quinoa destroy any affectiveness of the it’s steroidal properties? Suck it and see, I guess!

  3. Joey
    July 22, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Amazing article! Thank you. I gonna try spinach. It’s dirt cheap in my area.

  4. April 13, 2014 at 8:31 pm


    If suma extract has no side effects and is more effective than the anabolic steroids used by bodybuilders and athletes, then why do people choose to use steroids over suma extract?


    • Jared White
      April 15, 2014 at 10:44 am

      HI Aaron, good questions. The use of anabolic-androgenic steroids is known and effective for increasing strength and lean muscles mass (but also increasing the risk for a plethora of physical and mental health problems), which is probably why many athletes and body-builders use it. Ecdysteroids (the type of steroids found in suma) are less known and less researched and their effect may not be as pronounced in humans as in the animals tested. The most significant studies of ecdysteroids use rats, and there are no studies I’ve seen that use the same amount of ecdysteroids found to have anabolic effects in rats with humans. Finally, perhaps the reason people use steroid drugs is the same reason so many people use drugs instead of natural (and true means) of health: there is a lot of profit in drugs and mainstream medicine promotes the use of drugs over herbal medicine or real food.

    • April 28, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Great information! Any thoughts or research on these foods helping individuals who are on systemic or inhaled steroids to control inflammation due to asthma. Thank you!

  5. Tobi
    March 28, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Does that mean that eating 250 g of quinoa will have an anabolic effect on my body if I eat enough protein and train hard?

    • Tobi
      March 28, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      My weight is 70 kg.Does that mean that I can could eat 450 g of spinache and around 70 g of quinoa in order to see the anabolic benefits of this?

      • Jared White
        March 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        Hi Tobi! It looks like you’ve got it calculated to about 1mg of ecdysteroid per kg of bodyweight. From the studies I’ve read, it appears this amount will have some anabolic effect (though the amounts used with rats were much higher). Also, quinoa and spinach are great anabolic foods in general.

        • Tobi
          April 15, 2014 at 6:28 am

          thanks man

    • Jeanmarie
      October 1, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      So Popeye was right!!!!!

  6. March 15, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Hi, I read somewhere i said 1 ounce of wheat grass is equal to 5 pound of spinach

    • Jared White
      March 15, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Hi Jay, there’s a lot of hyped-up information about wheat grass and barley grass, but they’re actually not anymore nutrient dense than other leafy greens.

  7. Maria Freeman
    January 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    How spinach is better row or cooked? does kale help? I stop taking prednisone because some reactions.. and I need the steroids to reinforce my immune system.. I have ITP

    • Jared White
      January 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Hi Maria, both raw or cooked are good options. Cooked spinach is perhaps better than raw because it’s easier to consume in larger quantities, meaning more vitamins and minerals for you!

  8. fdy
    October 10, 2013 at 8:39 am

    is it ok to consume 150 g of quinoa to get the

    • Jared White
      Jared White
      October 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      Yes, quinoa is healthy and delicious. Just be sure to soak it overnight and then rinse it before cooking in order to eliminate the phytic acid and sapanins.

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