runners-373099_640Muscle loss and a reduction in strength is inevitable with aging.  After the age of 25, men and women, lose an estimated 0.5% of their muscle mass each year up to age 60 when the rate of loss begins increase to approximately 1% up to age 75.  Further complicating aging is the simultaneous decrease in strength, which is lost more rapidly than the muscle mass itself and is a contributing factor to age related declines in physical function. 

Thankfully, there are effective strategies to slow the process of age related sarcopenia (muscle deterioration) and strength loss.  These include weight training and resistance exercise. 

However, without proper nutrition the loss of muscle mass can be accelerated despite an active lifestyle.  

Here are some nutrition tips for athletes and active individuals ages 35 and older:

  • Eat 30-40 grams of protein each meal to maximize muscle repair and building.
  • Aim for 4-6 meals of 30-40 grams of protein. This increases the amount of time the body repairs and builds new muscle through the day.
  • Consume 30-40 grams of protein within 2 hours of exercise when the body is most receptive to muscle synthesis.
  • Grab a protein meal before bed. The body repairs at rest but is generally deprived of food during sleep.
  • Avoid low protein breakfasts to extend the body’s time for maximal muscle synthesis.

Supplements that may help:

  • Omega 3 fish oils – new research reports that omega 3’s may improve sensitivity to protein intake and result in the improvement physical performance.
  • Creatine – for older athletes already adapted to their sport, creatine may provide greater muscle mass and strength gains.
  • Leucine – studies show that leucine stimulates muscle growth and is often used in clinical settings to mitigate muscle loss in aging patients.
  • Whey protein – high in leucine and easy to consume in shakes or meals like cereal and oatmeal. Whey is easy for the body to utilize and makes consuming adequate lean sources of protein convenient.

How much protein?

In younger athletes 20 grams of protein per meal is sufficient, however older individuals require more protein at mealtimes to stimulate maximal muscle synthesis; approximately 30-40 grams per meal. 

This however is a general guideline and should be used in conjunction with individualized energy and protein need calculations.

Calculating protein for any active individual should start at 1.2g/kg.  Increased intakes have not proven to cause kidney damage, but existing health conditions may dictate your ability to increase protein intake. 

What is muscle synthesis?

When reading about muscle synthesis most individuals immediately think bodybuilding.  While bodybuilders certainly benefit from muscle synthesis so does everyone else: endurance athletes, active adults, weight lifters, even couch potatoes.

Muscle synthesis is fancy terminology for the creation of new muscle tissue for repair and rebuilding. 

Everyone undergoes muscle damage and turn-over.  As muscle cells tissue ages or is damaged from use it needs to be repaired.  Protein provides the building blocks, amino acids, required for new muscle tissue to be built.   

Maximizing muscle synthesis.

Eating protein stimulates the body to make new tissue for up to 5 hours after a meal, but is most effective 2-3 hours after eating.

Spreading out optimal protein intake evenly throughout the day takes advantage of this increased muscle building window more often in a 24 hour period.

For example – eating 4-6 meals with 30g of protein in each would provide 8-12 hours of time spent in the maximal muscle building window.

In contrast, eating 3 meals a day provides only 4-6 hours and would not take advantage of the body’s ability to build muscle all day.

A common short-fall to maximizing protein synthesis in an active diet is a low protein breakfast.

* Consulting with your physician or a registered dietitian would be advised before making changes to nutrition.