Why Does Muscle Mass Change With Age?
As we get older, we often lose muscle mass. From bodybuilders to everyday citizens, this medical phenomenon can affect anyone. Though, it also doesn’t affect everyone. But if you are noticing this happening to your body, or you fear it happening in the future, what can be done to fight it off?
But before we can talk about that, we have to first understand what this muscle mass change is. The technical term for this occurrence is Sarcopenia. Sarcopenia, also known as muscle loss, is a common condition that affects 10% of adults over the age of 50. Sarcopenia in Latin literally means “lack of flesh.” With that, middle-aged adults and older on average lose 3% of their muscle strength every year.
What Causes Sarcopenia?
So what causes Sarcopenia? Well, Sarcopenia is particularly caused by an imbalance between signals for muscle growth and signals for teardown. During aging, the body becomes resistant to normal growth signals. That leads to those signals for tearing down the muscles and body taking over.
Part of what can cause that imbalance is the growing immobility that comes with getting older. The lack of muscle use makes it so the body thinks it doesn’t need those muscles. This doesn’t just happen with aging, of course. Someone whose bedridden because of an injury also sees this phenomenon.
An imbalanced diet can also cause Sarcopenia. Not taking in enough calories and protein can cause weight and muscle loss. But unfortunately, this kind of dieting becomes more frequent as we age. So does inflammation, another factor in this. After injury or illness, inflammation sends signals to tear down and rebuild. Muscle loss becomes a factor in this. And as we age, we often are more susceptible to illness and injury.
Other factors to consider are the effect hormones changes have as we age. As we get older, there’s a natural decline of testosterone, the hormone that stimulates protein synthesis and muscle growth. Without testosterone, your body has a hard time building muscle. As such, taking in supplemental testosterone might be a partial solution to the problem of muscle loss as we get older. But, there are adverse effects to consider. And, the FDA has not approved these supplements for the specific purpose of increasing muscle mass in men.
So, how do you fight off sarcopenia? The first approach is to be mindful of what you eat. Just like when gaining and losing muscle mass in the earlier years of your life, you’ve got to be mindful of it when aging.
Eating more protein is the first solution to this problem. As explained earlier, proteins are the fire the fuels muscle growth and sustainability. The body breaks down protein-rich foods into amino acids. Though as we age, we should be careful with red meats. There’s several reasons for this such as their tie to negative effects on the heart. So, make sure to each chicken fish, eggs, yogurt, and beans.
“A recent study in the journal Nutrients suggests a daily intake of 1 to 1.3 grams (g) of protein per kilogram of body weight for older adults who do resistance training. For example, a 175-pound man would need about 79 g to 103 g a day. If possible, divide your protein equally among your daily meals to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
This is a high amount compared with the average diet, but there are many ways to get the extra protein you need. Animal sources (meat, eggs, and milk) are considered the best, as they provide the proper ratios of all the essential amino acids. Yet, you want to stay away from red and processed meat because of high levels of saturated fat and additives.
Instead, opt for healthier choices, such as
3.5 ounces of lean chicken or salmon (31 g and 24 g respectively)
6 ounces of plain Greek yogurt (17 g)
1 cup of skim milk (9 g)
1 cup of cooked beans (about 18 g).”
But now that you’ve got a better idea of what to eat, what exercises can you pursue in order to expand on your fight against sarcopenia? You can first try resistance training. Aim for two or three 30-minute sessions per week that focus on strength building. This can also be called progressive resistance training. With PRT, you gradually increase your workout volume as your strength and endurance increase. This growing challenge helps people build and maintain muscle.
That said, you don’t want to overly focus on strength training. Variety is the spice of life, after all. Get some cardio work in there from time to time. Go running. And if running is too intense, walk around your neighborhood. Get your feet moving. Or from time to time, shorten your repetitions instead of increasing them. That way, your sets will have a more intense and explosive feeling. This helps your body recruit more muscle fibers and increase lean muscle mass.
Realize That You’re Fighting Biology
Don’t get too upset if your body isn’t reacting to your efforts the way you want to, however. At the end of the day, you are fighting against biology. That takes a lot of effort and money (frankly). In the end, some muscle will probably. In the end, some of that effort may not work out the way you want. But that’s the reality of the situation. At the end of the day, however, you want to be as healthy and happy as possible. Keeping up with a good diet and consistent exercise routine will get you on that path. We hope it’s (close) to everything you want it to be.