One of my older buddies, a 74-year-old, fitness-conscious fellow, when asked how he’s doing, often responds, “I’m keeping it tight,” which always gives people a laugh. Amusing as it is to hear the phrase coming out of a septuagenarian’s mouth, his goal of keeping trim, with as much muscle as possible, is a serious one – and one we all should shoot for, no matter what age we are.
The challenge with muscle mass is that after the age of 40, it starts to decline at roughly 1% a year. At 50, the decline picks up additional speed (yikes!). So, if you’re not starting with a lot of muscle to begin with, it’s easy to see how by the time you hit my buddy’s age, you may have lost as much as 50% or more of your muscle mass. Pretty alarming, eh? Though it certainly explains why Granny needs help carrying the groceries.
On the upside though, while Gran’s got her challenges, you’ve still got time to slow the muscle mass slide and even build muscle mass, and, as my buddy says, “keep it tight” for years to come. Here are a few steps to take right now:
1. Don’t just stand there – move it, lift it, work it.
Need one more reason to workout? To maintain muscle mass, exercise is job #1. To stave off sarcopenia, the age-related muscular deterioration that’s the muscular equivalent of osteoporosis, the best approach is a two-pronged exercise routine. Alternate resistance training to build and strengthen muscles, with aerobic work to increase blood flow to the capillaries, bringing more oxygen to the muscles and building endurance. If you’ve been out of the fitness loop for a while, consider hiring a trainer to develop a customized program for you and to help guide you through your workouts – but clear it with your doc before getting started. Make sure the trainer you choose has experience training the 40+ set, to help minimize your risk of injury from doing too much, too soon. You can also check out our Pinterest page for more great exercise ideas. Once you’re looking and feeling fit – don’t quit – this is a life-long commitment.
2. Eat protein, particularly if you’re getting on in years.
Though the perfect amount of high-quality protein you need to eat daily in order to maintain long-term muscle mass hasn’t been definitively established, you can roughly estimate your daily requirements based on the following equation: Take your body weight, divide it in half, subtract 10. The resulting number will give you the approximate amount of protein you should be eating every day. So, for example, if you weigh 160 lbs, then half of that is 80, minus 10 = 70 grams of protein spread over the course a day’s worth of meals. In short, to slow muscle deterioration, particularly for those heading into their 60’s and beyond, high-quality protein is your best weapon. NOTE: If you have renal issues, you should work with your doctor to determine an appropriate daily protein intake for you specific needs.
3. Make your protein count.
If you are going to eat meat, make sure it is grass fed beef or organic chicken. And if you eat eggs, look for organic pasture raised or free range eggs. While meat and poultry are helpful in building muscle, you can also get high-quality protein from non-meat sources. A few good sources of non-meat proteins include organic white beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils and even leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli and asparagus. But my favorite source of protein for building muscle mass is Whey Protein from grass fed cows. If you want to get a jump on your protein needs first thing in the morning, include one scoop of Be Well Whey Protein powder in your smoothie to add 24 grams of protein to your breakfast.
4. Supplement your strength.
While I believe you should get the majority of your nutrition from fresh, organic, non-GM veggies, grass fed meats, organic chicken and eggs, some legumes and some fruits, supplementation is an excellent way to support overall health and fill in the nutritional gaps, in middle age and even more so for older adults who may not be eating enough of the right foods. Among the supplements that have shown promise in preserving and supporting muscle mass, topping the list are Omega-3fatty acids; Vitamin D; L carnitine; Glutamine and B12/folic acid.
Bottom line: Consistent, strength training and aerobic exercise, smart dietary choices and strategic supplementation – they’re your ticket to a strong, healthy body – so the sooner you climb aboard, the better!