Nu­tri­tional se­cret to build­ing mus­cle in your 40s and be­yond

In­creas­ing pro­tein in­take with your train­ing regime will help re­tain mus­cle strength

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HEALTH - By JAMES COLLINS

We see it all the time. The busiest place in the gym is the mir­ror next to the weights — plenty of flex­ing, a few selfies and a pro­tein shake thrown in for good mea­sure.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you that you need to go down that route — al­though you do need to start pay­ing at­ten­tion to your mus­cles. In a sense, your mus­cles are the for­got­ten man of main­stream health cov­er­age: the me­dia tends to ob­sess over body fat, look­ing lean, and re­duc­ing over­all weight. How­ever, our mus­cles are key to keep­ing us mov­ing freely through­out our busy lives. We ne­glect them at our peril.

In re­cent years, there has been in­creas­ing re­search on the mus­cle, and how pro­tein sup­ports growth and re­pair, both for ath­letes in their prime and non-ath­letes at dif­fer­ent stages of life. As with all the per­for­mance nu­tri­tion prin­ci­ples I’m dis­cussing in this col­umn, to get the most from your body re­lies on ex­er­cise and nu­tri­tion work­ing to­gether. Ex­er­cise is king and nu­tri­tion is queen. This is one re­la­tion­ship to in­vest time in.

Ve­hi­cle main­te­nance

Last month, I dis­cussed the type and amount of fuel our body re­quires through­out the day. The anal­ogy I used was that of a car: es­sen­tially, you need to fuel your body for the jour­ney it takes each day, with­out run­ning out of petrol be­fore re­turn­ing home or end­ing the day with a sur­plus in the tank.

This month, the car anal­ogy can come out of the garage again, be­cause we are fo­cus­ing on the main­te­nance and re­pair of your ve­hi­cle.

Like an age­ing car, the body be­comes less ef­fi­cient as we move through our thir­ties. A key part of this phys­i­o­log­i­cal de­cline is the loss of mus­cle mass and func­tion — a process known as sar­cope­nia. You may feel fine now, but this grad­ual de­cline in mus­cle strength and mass can re­sult in the re­duced abil­ity to your favourite ac­tiv­i­ties as you get older (play­ing golf, go­ing on a week­end run, or even just walk­ing around town). That’s why fight­ing the age­ing process, us­ing ex­er­cise and nu­tri­tion, should start as soon as pos­si­ble.

The NHS’s phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity guide­lines for adults aged 19-64 was re­cently up­dated to in­clude (at least) two re­sis­tance train­ing ses­sions a week, where all the ma­jor mus­cle groups (legs, hips, back, ab­domen, chest, shoul­ders and arms) are worked.

But train­ing on its own isn’t enough. The sec­ond key com­po­nent of mus­cle growth (also called mus­cle pro­tein syn­the­sis), is eat­ing enough pro­tein. Foods con­tain­ing pro­tein are di­gested, bro­ken down into small build­ing blocks known as ‘amino acids’ and these blocks are then used by the mus­cle to re­pair and build new tis­sue

Around the clock

Your mus­cles un­dergo con­stant change over 24 hours, break­ing down and re­build­ing, so your daily pro­tein in­take needs to be suf­fi­cient to meet this de­mand and main­tain your over­all mus­cle mass.

What are the best foods to main­tain your mus­cles? Well, ‘com­plete’ pro­teins, typ­i­cally from an­i­mal sources, con­tain­ing a com­plete range of amino acids, have been shown to be most ben­e­fi­cial, such as dairy, poul­try and fish. Quinoa and buck­wheat also fall into the ‘com­plete’ cat­e­gory. Other plant sources are also good, but miss one or more amino acids to make them com­plete — this means they need to be com­bined with other plant pro­teins (e.g. rice and beans), which is easy at meal­times.

This com­bi­na­tion of re­sis­tance train­ing and suf­fi­cient pro­tein are the same prin­ci­ples elite ath­letes fol­low to keep their mus­cles strong and pow­er­ful — al­though with age­ing, the mus­cles be­come less re­spon­sive (set in their ways) to both train­ing and pro­tein. This means pro­tein in­takes need to in­crease to­wards old age.

In gen­eral, do­ing some re­sis­tance work and get­ting enough pro­tein to off­set it shouldn’t feel like a life over­all. You don’t need to start shift­ing those mas­sive at­las balls like on World’s Strong­est Man, but there does need to be some in­tent into your main­tain­ing your mus­cles.


You can fight the age­ing process us­ing ex­er­cise and nu­tri­tion.

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