Declining muscle mass is part of aging, but you are not helpless to stop it.
Muscle aging may start at a relatively young age. By the time you’re in your 30s, age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) may already have begun if you've neglected to take proactive steps to prevent it.
Your muscles help keep your metabolic system intact, and maintaining muscle mass helps protect you against metabolic and hormonal decline, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
With appropriate diet and exercise, especially strength training, you can avoid and even reverse age-related muscle loss.
We all know the saying, "Two things for certain in life are death and taxes"… but in fact we should add "losing muscle mass", too.
Age-related muscle loss, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures.
But just because you lose muscle mass does not mean it is gone forever. We can indeed increase muscle mass lost due to aging. It takes work, dedication, and a plan, but it is never too late to rebuild muscle and maintain it.
One possible contributor to sarcopenia is the natural decline of testosterone, the hormone that stimulates protein synthesis and muscle growth. Think of testosterone as the fuel for your muscle-building fire.
The best way to build muscle mass, no matter your age, is resistance training or strength training or weight lifting. Make sure you gradually amp up your workout volume, weight, reps, and sets, as your strength and endurance improve. Always keep changing your routine. Add more weights, less reps or visa-versa. This constant challenging builds muscle and keeps you away from plateaus where you stop making gains.
Your diet also plays a role in building muscle mass. Use high quality proteins and fats. Minimize carbs. Animal sources (meat, eggs, and fish) are considered the best, as they provide the proper ratios of all the essential amino acids. You want to stay away from processed meat because of high levels of saturated fat and additives.
Insulin Resistance Promotes Muscle Wasting
First of all, it's important to realize that maintaining healthy insulin sensitivity is part and parcel of maintaining healthy muscle and avoiding sarcopenia. As you age, insulin no longer prevents your muscle from breaking down between meals and overnight as it normally does when you're young. The same phenomenon occurs when you're insulin resistant or diabetic.
The mechanism responsible for this is called mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin), which is part of the insulin pathway. This is why insulin sensitivity is essential for proper protein building in your muscle. In short, to build muscle, the mTOR mechanism must be activated. If your insulin receptors are insensitive, this cannot occur, and muscle wasting becomes inevitable. The mTOR mechanism can be activated through both diet and exercise.
Whey protein (watch out for inferior whey products!) is a highly beneficial dietary component as it not only increases GLP-1, a satiety peptide that promotes healthy insulin secretion and helps your insulin work more effectively - it also boosts human growth hormone (HGH). High-intensity interval exercises and intermittent fasting also promote HGH production in your body.
The triple combination of doing high intensity exercises while fasting and consuming high-quality whey protein 30 minutes after your workout is one potent strategy for preventing insulin resistance and muscle wasting.
Another lifestyle factor to consider is sensible sun exposure, as vitamin D is critically important for muscle function. (It's also essential for bone health, along with calcium and magnesium.) Vitamin D deficiency also raises your risk for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, regardless of your weight.
Building muscle is not all about strength. You also need power. Muscle power, how fast and efficiently you move, is more connected to the activities of daily living and physical function than muscular strength. A good way to improve overall muscle power is with your legs, since they are most responsible for mobility. Do quicker movements against resistance, like one's own body weight, can be an effective means of developing power.
To gain more muscle mass, older men need a structured and detailed fitness program. It should be tailored to the individual with the goals being progression and improvement. It should focus on individual elements like specific exercises, load, repetitions, and rest periods, and should challenge but not overwhelm. You don't want to be sore for 3 days!
Sarcopenia Is Not an Inevitable Fate
While muscle loss is a natural effect associated with aging, it’s not an inevitable fate. A healthy and active 60 year old can have the muscle mass of a 30-year old, while a sedentary middle-aged person who eats a primarily processed food diet and struggles with insulin resistance or diabetes may have the muscle quality of a 70-year old.
Remember, eating real, whole foods and staying active are key, as both will help prevent insulin resistance. In terms of staying active, avoid sitting as much as possible and be sure to engage in resistance exercises. A potent trifecta of strategies that will boost muscle growth is to do high intensity exercises while fasted, and then consume high-quality whey protein after your workout to give your muscles the nutrients they need to rebuild.
Sources: Harvard Health & Dr. Mercola