Read on here what causes muscle loss as you age and what are the most effective easy steps to stop muscle loss as you age and how to gain muscle?
What makes us weaken with age?
As we grow old, changes in our sex drive, energy levels and memory are the common things that we have to go through. But what some people don’t know that the loss of muscle and strength also impact many of us as we age. This happens due to a disease called sarcopenia—age-related loss of muscle mass, strength, power and function. Sarcopenia can lead to disability, osteoporosis, falls, hospital stays, and even death.
Sarcopenia has been defined as an age related, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. Beginning as early as the 4th decade of life begins, evidence suggests that skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion with up to 50% of mass being lost by the 8th decade of life. (US National Library Of Medicine – National Institute Of Health)
What Accelerate Muscle Loss?
Although aging is the most common cause of sarcopenia, other factors can also trigger and accelerate muscle loss.
1. Immobility, Including a Sedentary Lifestyle: Disuse of muscle is one of the main causes of sarcopenia, resulting in to faster muscle loss and increasing weakness.
Bed rest or immobilization after an injury or illness also leads to rapid loss of muscle.
Older adults spend most of their time in sedentary activities. Inactivity accelerates muscle breakdown and dysfunction, often resulting in to a vicious cycle of muscle loss, injury, and inefficient repair.
2. Unbalanced Diet: A diet supplying inadequate calories and protein leads to weight loss and reducing muscle mass.
Older people require more protein than younger people to stimulate the same amount of muscle growth.
Unfortunately, low-calorie and low-protein diets become more common with aging because of changes in sense of taste, problems with teeth, gums, or due to increased difficulty in shopping and cooking.
4. Stress And Medical Conditions: Sarcopenia is also more common in a number of health conditions, which increase stress on the body.
People with chronic liver disease, and up to 20% of people with chronic heart failure, suffer sarcopenia.
In chronic kidney disease, stress on the body and decreased activity lead to muscle loss.
Cancer and cancer treatments also put enormous stress on the body leading to loss in muscle mass.
How to Prevent Sarcopenia, Or Age-Related Muscle Loss?
Here is good news for you. Muscle loss in elderly can be reversed. Protein supplementation, exercise, and vitamin D are the tested and established treatments for the age related muscle loss.
Diet Related Tips To Prevent Muscle Loss
If you’re deficient in calories, protein or certain vitamins and minerals, you may be at higher risk of muscle loss.
(i) Protein: Eating more protein from diet and protein supplements can help prevent and reverse age-related muscle loss. Older adults who eat more protein have higher muscle mass than those who eat less. Moreover, middle-aged adults who consume more protein have a considerably lower long-term risk of losing muscle as they age.
Note: Many nutrition experts suggest that the current protein RDA of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight ought to be increased to at least 1.2 grams per kg of body weight. People who exercise or have chronic disease need even more—around 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight (source).
The timing of ingestion is also important. It’s more beneficial to spread protein intake throughout the day for boosting muscle. Old people should aim to ingest around 25 to 30 grams of protein with each meal.
The type of protein you eat is also important. Different types have different amounts of amino acids. The amount of the amino acid leucine determines whether skeletal muscle protein stimulation can occur or not. In general, animal proteins and whey protein contain more leucine than plant proteins.
Proteins that are digested and absorbed quickly like whey, promote muscle growth better than proteins like casein and soy. For example liquid proteins are normally better for maximizing muscle growth because of quicker digestion.
Whey protein when consumed in a beverage offers quick digestion, and has high leucine content, making it particularly good at promoting muscle synthesis. It is superior to soy protein and, when used with strength training, increases muscle mass significantly. Pea protein is another promising option. A study found it to be nearly equivalent to whey protein.
Leucine supplementation can substantially promote muscle mass in the elderly and works especially satisfactorily in people having sarcopenia. At least 2.5 grams of leucine is typically needed to wield noticeable improvements in muscle mass. A study found that a supplement comprising of just 6.25 grams of total protein plus 5 grams of leucine was as capable as 25 grams of whey protein after resistance workout.
Note: For best results combining leucine with other essential amino acids or protein sources is more beneficial than taking free leucine on its own.
(a) Rich sources of leucine include whey protein, meat, fish and eggs, as well as soy protein isolate.
Useful Related Post: Whey Protein For Seniors
(b) Eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, dairy, beans and legumes are all great protein sources. Or consider adding a whey protein shake into your diet to get your fill.
(ii) Vitamin D: Another important factor of sarcopenia prevention and treatment is vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is connected with muscle atrophy, weak handgrip strength, weakness and sarcopenia. Vitamin D supplementation on its own and also combined with a leucine-enriched whey protein supplement considerably improves strength and increases muscle mass and function in seniors with sarcopenia, even when no exercise is part of the treatment.
For the required dose of vitamin D, you will need to talk to your doctor.
(iii) Omega-3 Fatty Acids: No matter of what age you are, ingesting omega-3 fatty acids via seafood or supplements will improve your muscle growth.
A study of 45 women found that a daily 2-gram fish oil supplement together with resistance exercise enhanced muscle strength more than resistance training without fish oil.
(iv) Creatine: Creatine is a small protein normally formed in the liver. Even though your body makes sufficient amount to save you from becoming deficient, creatine in the diet from meat or as a supplement can improve your muscle growth.
A number of studies were carried out to observe how taking a daily 5-gram creatine supplement affects 357 adults with an average age of 64.(Source)
When participants took the creatine, they got better results from resistance training than when they did resistance training without taking creatine.
Note: However, creatine is probably not beneficial for sarcopenia if used alone, without exercise.
Exercise Can Reverse Sarcopenia And Muscle Loss In Old Age
The strongest way to fight sarcopenia is to keep your muscles active. (Source).
Combinations of aerobic/endurance and strength/resistance exercise help older adults to improve their muscle health and overall health. Whereas aerobic/endurance exercise is helpful for maintaining and improving cardiovascular and respiratory function, strength/resistance exercise improves muscle strength, power, and function.
Progressive resistance exercises, where seniors exercise against an increasing load, can prevent or even reverse age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. A research study showed that progressive resistance exercise done 2 or 3 times a week improved muscle strength, gait speed, physical ability, and functional limitation.
In one review it was found that people above age 50 gained an average of 2.4 pounds of lean body mass with resistance exercise. Even very old adults and frail people can benefit significantly from progressive resistance training. Another study found that 8 weeks of progressive weight lifting could provide an average 174 percent gain in muscle strength, a 9% increase in the mid-thigh muscle area, and a 48 percent increase in gait speed.
Note: You can perform resistance exercises with traditional free weights and dumbbells, weight machines, body weight, elastic tubing, medicine balls, or even common household products like milk jugs filled with sand or soup cans.
Tip: Resistance training includes weightlifting, pulling against resistance bands or moving part of the body against gravity or doing calisthenics like squats, push-ups and sit-ups.
Useful Related Post: Weight Lifting After 50
When you perform resistance exercise, the tension on your muscle fibers results in growth signals that lead to increased muscles mass and strength. Resistance exercise also increases the actions of growth-promoting hormones. (Source)
Exercises give best results when combined with proper nutrition, particularly when resistance exercise is coupled with higher amounts of protein. Whey protein coupled with resistance exercise bestows considerable increase in muscle mass.
A research study indicates that an overall exercise frequency of at least 2 to 3 sessions per week may be crucial for beneficially impacting bone and muscle mass of elderly subjects. (Source)
As per a 2011 study reported in the journal of Medicine and Science, the men and women in their 60s and 70s who started weight training developed muscles as large and as strong as people in their 40s.
According to Jim White, a registered dietician nutritionist and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, an older adult should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of any type of moderate endurance exercise in a week in addition to weight training 3 times per week to build muscle and improve strength.
Useful Related Post: Weight Training For Older Adults
Sleep Is Essential To Repair And Regenerate Muscles
After exercise, your body requires time to recover itself, and most of that work happens while you sleep. Therefore aim for about 7 to 9 hours sleep each night.
Don’t Cut Down Carbohyrates
To quote White: “When you are not eating carbs, you are often lackluster. You feel weak, lack energy to be able to lift weights and are jeopardizing your chances of building more muscle mass.”
In fact, several studies recommend ingesting a combination of protein and carbs before and after workout can support building of muscle mass.
Note: Avoid white, refined grains, as they are devoid of vitamins and fiber and causes spikes in your blood sugar. Instead aim to eat 6 to 11 servings of whole grains, sweet potatoes, beans, legumes and fruit.
If you wish to remain strong, mobile, and independent then follow these simple steps:
(a) Have good nutrition, plenty of protein, and a regular strength training program. They will not only help to prevent muscle mass while you age, but will help keep you healthier, leaner, and free from chronic disease.
(b) Eat more fish, eggs, poultry, and lean red meat. Also include fermented dairy, milk, and legumes.
(c) Focus on strength/resistance training. The combination of increased protein and strength training will increase muscle mass and strength more than either of them alone.
(d) Consider having extra supplementation with protein powder such as whey protein (25-30 grams twice a day, including after exercise), leucine (2.5-5 grams per day), and vitamin D (to achieve and maintain blood levels of 50 to 80 mg/mL) can be added for even more powerful muscle gain.