Posted on by Margo Gladding
Did you know that individuals begin to lose muscle mass starting as early as age 30? This continues into later life and accelerates after the age of 60. The loss of muscle mass and strength can contribute to reduced mobility, prolonged recovery, as well as an increased fragility and increased risk for falls and fractures. While losing muscle is a normal part of aging, there are many factors that can contribute to earlier onset and a more rapid progression. Taking an individualized approach that includes preventative measures as well as addressing one’s risk factors can help to promote healthy aging and vitality.
Factors that contribute to muscle loss include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Poor nutrition
- Blood sugar imbalances / insulin resistance
- Hormone imbalances
- Chronic health conditions
- GI microbiome dysbiosis
- Low vitamin D levels
- Oxidative stress
6 Ways to Promote Muscle Mass
1. Eat adequate amounts of high-quality protein
A healthy diet, rich in protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass. If your body doesn’t get enough protein, muscle fibers are broken down to help support your body’s energy needs. To stimulate muscle synthesis, approximately 25–30 grams of protein is needed at each meal. However, it is important to note that protein requirements increase with age and activity level.
When digested, protein is broken down into amino acids. Proteins from different animal and plant sources have different amino acid compositions. The body can make some amino acids on its own, but the rest must be obtained from protein-rich foods. Studies show that branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are particularly important for maintaining muscle tissue. The three BCAAs are leucine, valine, and isoleucine. Leucine (found in chicken, fish, lamb, milk, cheese, lentils, sesame, peanuts, etc.) is considered one of the most important essential amino acids for stimulating muscle synthesis.
When it comes to choosing protein, selecting sustainable sources of animal protein when possible, such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, or pasture raised eggs, can help to provide a healthier nutritional profile, including beneficial fatty acids and less toxins. In addition, supplementing with a high-quality protein shake, such as whey protein powder, can be a helpful way to ensure protein needs are being met. This can be especially convenient after a workout, to support muscle recovery.
Examples of Protein-Rich Foods
- Grass-fed beef
- Whey protein
- Wild-caught fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc.)
- Organic chicken
- Black beans (or other beans)
- Full fat, organic Kefir or yogurt
- Free-range eggs
- Full fat, organic cottage cheese
- Organic tempeh
- Nuts / nut butters
2. Optimize Digestion and Absorption
As we age, digestion can become compromised. Symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn, and lack of appetite can occur. This is often due to decreasing levels of digestive enzymes as well as microbiome imbalances. When digestion is impaired, the body is unable to extract and absorb all of the nutrients from food. Supplementing with a digestive enzyme formula can help to assist in the proper breakdown of protein, carbohydrates and fats. In addition, taking a probiotic supplement can aid digestion and enhance nutrient absorption. If you are curious to learn more about your digestion, absorption and bacterial balance, our lab test, Digestive Health Panel, is a great way to gain insight into your GI health.
3. Ensure Optimal Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Intake
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, algae oil, krill oil, and fish oil supplements, have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to have a positive influence on muscle protein synthesis and mitochondrial health. Studies suggest that supplementing with at 2-4 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish oil daily, can help with muscle soreness, muscle damage and promote muscle gain. Paired with exercise, EPA/DHA has been shown in studies to be beneficial for improving muscle strength, endurance capacity, and mitochondrial function. In addition, essential fatty acids also support cardiovascular and cognitive health.
4. Supplement with Vitamin D3
The role of vitamin D for bone health has been well established. Evidence shows that vitamin D also plays an important role in muscle health. Studies show that vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are associated with lower muscle strength, increased body instability, falls, and fractures in older adults. Many individuals are low in this important vitamin. Optimal blood levels are between 50-70 ng/mL. Supplementing with vitamin D3 can help to improve muscle function and muscle mass.
Movement is one of the most powerful ways to support healthy muscles. Exercise increases strength, aerobic capacity, muscle protein synthesis, and muscle mitochondrial enzyme activity. Exercise also promotes healthy blood sugar balance and body composition. In particular, resistance exercises, such as squats, pushups, leg raises, and using weights have been shown to improve muscle strength and function. While daily exercise is ideal, a minimum of three times per week of resistance and endurance exercises can help to slow muscle loss and provide therapeutic benefit.
6. Reduce Oxidative Stress
Evidence suggests that oxidative stress (damage caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, alcohol, smoking, toxins, etc.), and chronic low-grade inflammation play important roles in age-related muscle loss and atrophy. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods and antioxidants, limiting refined grains, processed foods and sugar, reducing stress, avoiding chemicals, addressing nutrient deficiencies, and exercising are some helpful ways to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
Taking a comprehensive and individualized approach to promoting muscle health is best. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in high-quality protein and antioxidants, optimizing GI health, supplementing with key nutrients, exercising, and reducing oxidative stress, are some important ways to help preserve muscle strength and improve overall health. If you have any questions about your unique needs, Village Green has a team of nutrition experts available to provide you with support and guidance.
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Paula is a highly qualified and experienced nutrition counselor on the staff at Village Green.
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