Beginning around age 30, we begin to lose muscle and gain body fat every year. Specifically, age-related muscle loss occurs at an average rate of three to five percent per decade between the ages of 30 and 60 and accelerates significantly after age 60 (1). This is a serious concern since abnormally low muscle mass, know as sarcopenia, is linked to loss of strength and mobility, culminating in unhealthy aging and frailty.
The good news is that no matter your age, you can take steps to improve your muscle health. Both good nutrition and regular exercise are essential to maintaining muscle mass over time. If you want to give your muscles the best support, these are three steps you can take today to boost your muscles now and in the future.
1. Focus on Protein
Dietary protein is essential for ensuring muscle health. A number of studies have shown that people who consume higher amounts of protein over time, maintain more muscle mass compared to those who consume less protein (2). Consuming enough protein-rich foods every day is important, but scientific studies have shown that the source of protein also matters when it comes to preventing age-associated muscle loss. For example, numerous scientific studies support whey protein as the best source of protein to promote muscle building for people of all ages (3). Additionally, scientific studies suggest timing of protein intake is important and that dividing your protein intake evenly throughout the day creates an ideal environment for maintaining and building muscle (4). So, your best strategy is to choose a balanced amount of protein at each meal and make sure you include a quality source of whey protein on a regular basis.
2. Get Your Vitamin D
It has long been known that vitamin D is important for healthy bones but continued research has also identified a role for vitamin D in muscle function. In several recent studies, researchers found that vitamin D supplements supported improved muscle strength and balance for older adults (5). Surprisingly, one third of all U.S. adults have low levels of vitamin D, or vitamin D insufficiency (6). For people who live in southern latitudes moderate daily sun exposure can help your body make its own vitamin D, but people who live outside of the sun belt or who spend most of their time indoors are at increased risk of suboptimal vitamin D concentrations. Consuming fortified foods and supplementing with vitamin D are more reliable approaches to adequately meeting your body’s vitamin D needs.
3. Resist Muscle Loss With Resistance Exercise
Regular exercise is one of the most important strategies for maintaining strong, lean muscle. Any type of physical activity has benefits for muscle health, but resistance exercise, such as lifting weights, is more effective for increasing muscle mass and strength (7). Regardless of your level of fitness, adding resistance exercise three days per week will have great benefits for both protecting and building muscle.
Each of these tips for boosting muscle health can have great benefits on its own. However, the results of a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrates that all three work together to produce combined benefits (8). In this study, researchers developed a program to help improve muscle health in older adults who had low muscle mass. The researcher’s program evaluated the use of whey protein, vitamin D supplements, and strength training exercises compared to a group of subjects who only exercised. The exercise-only group showed some improvement in muscle health; however, the group following the combined exercise and nutrition program showed significantly greater improvements in muscle health and added more than three pounds of muscle on average over the course of the 12-week study.
Muscle loss is a gradual process with effects that accumulate over time. To stop negative effects of muscle loss, it’s important for people of any age to take steps to support muscle health with sound nutrition and regular exercise. Especially when used together, whey protein, vitamin D and strength training can combine to give your muscles a boost.
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