When you firmly believe that building muscle is impossible, you’re not likely to put in the effort needed to get results. Weight training seems like a futile effort, so why give it your all?
That’s why the first step to increase lean mass involves changing your mindset. Challenge the myths you’ve held onto when it comes to muscle gain, strength training, and age. Understand that muscle loss is not something they simply have to accept as they grow older.
Yes, research does indicate that people lose an average of 3-8% of their muscle mass every 10 years after turning 30, with this rate increasing at 60 years of age and beyond. This is referred to as sarcopenia and bone density tends to decrease as well. But that doesn’t mean that this is an absolute.
Do a quick online search for “older bodybuilders” and you will find that many people have rock-solid physiques in their older years. Like the "64 year old woman wins 8 bodybuilding prizes" or the "many men over 50 are more fit that people half their age."
There are still many things you can do to increase your lean muscle later in life. One of them is weight training.
There is a heavy focus on aerobic exercise with age. This is because this type of exercise program helps improve heart health and can reduce an older person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. Yet, there is one other form of physical activity that is critical to building muscle. That activity is resistance training.
Lifting weights helps you build muscle. It breaks your muscle tissue down so your body can build it up again and make it even stronger. One study even found that strength training helps stop age-related muscle decline. That is, for as long as the person continues to lift weights.
It doesn’t have to be a heavy weight either. Following a progressive resistance training program will help you to weight training slowly. This type of exercise program can also help avoid injury.
When developing the strength training workout, incorporate compound exercise movements. This enables you to work more than one muscle group at a time. That makes it helpful if you want results but don’t want to spend a lot of time at the gym. Squats with bicep curls or lunges with triceps extensions are two examples.
If you are turned off by weight lifting, suggest that they do resistance exercise with just their body weight. Planks are good for building muscle strength in the core muscles and biceps. Push-ups strengthen the chest and back.
Muscle fiber needs protein to grow. Some of this protein is created by the body via muscle protein synthesis. This is the process the body uses to turn amino acids into muscle protein. Increasing dietary protein helps aid protein synthesis.
According to a 2015 study, eating more protein helps “counterbalance muscle loss in older individuals.” It works by increasing the amino acids that are available to the body to use for creating muscle protein.
This research further suggests that most older adults need more than the recommended 1.2-2 grams of protein daily per kilogram of body weight. This is partially due to amino acid availability declining with age. Also, seven to 12 of those grams should come from the branched-chain amino acid leucine.
Protein intake can be increased by eating more lean red meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. If you struggle with getting more protein in their diet, a supplement can help. You can sip on a whey protein shake after their workout, giving their body the nutrients it needs to help muscles grow.
Determining protein intake is an individual process. Take into consideration the your total calorie intake, make a protein goal, and monitor your results. Continue to adjust their protein intake until you find the amount you need to build muscle mass without adding body fat.
Part of building muscle after 50 involves making sure the body has the nutrients it needs to good support muscle growth. One of these nutrients is vitamin D.
Research indicates that having adequate levels of vitamin D helps improve muscle performance in older adults. It also helps with balance, thereby reducing their risk of falls.
A blood test can determine whether you need to get more vitamin D. Ask your healthcare provider to check your levels. If you are low, getting 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight each day can help.
Another way to increase vitamin D is by eating more salmon, sardines, or tuna. Egg yolks are also rich in this vitamin, as are mushrooms, cow’s milk, and oatmeal. If you can’t get enough vitamin D in their diet, a supplement may be recommended. Taking calcium at the same time aids in vitamin D’s absorption.
Studies show that, for many people, weight gain is synonymous with aging. The term for this is “sarcopenic obesity.” The more body fat you have later in life, the greater your risk of cardiovascular disease, physical disability, and early death. Having more fat also makes it harder it becomes to engage in a physical activity designed to build muscle mass.
In cases such as this, weight loss may be the best first step. Focus on burning calories via cardio exercise to begin to get the weight down. This will help you begin to feel better and sets the stage for adding in a strength training routine.
Also understand the difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats. Include more of the former in your diet via eating avocados, nuts, and seeds. Reducing or eliminating unhealthy fats—which include saturated fats—is helpful too.