The saying goes there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. But men should also add loss of muscle mass to the list.
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, 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. A 2015 report from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research found that people with sarcopenia had 2.3 times the risk of having a low-trauma fracture from a fall, such as a broken hip, collarbone, leg, arm, or wrist.
The hormone factor
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.
Some research has shown that supplemental testosterone can add lean body mass—that is, muscle—in older men, but there can be adverse effects. Plus, the FDA has not approved these supplements specifically for increasing muscle mass in men.
This constant challenging builds muscle and keeps you away from plateaus where you stop making gains. (See “Working on a PRT program.”) In fact, a recent meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50 to 83 who did PRT and found that subjects averaged a 2.4-pound increase in lean body mass.
The power of protein
Your diet also plays a role in building muscle mass. Protein is the king of muscle food. The body breaks it down into amino acids, which it uses to build muscle. However, older men often experience a phenomenon called anabolic resistance, which lowers their bodies’ ability to break down and synthesize protein.
Therefore, as with PRT, if you are older, you need more. 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).
Also, to maximize muscle growth and improve recovery, suggests consuming a drink or meal with a carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of about three-to-one or four-to-one within 30 minutes after your workout. For example, a good choice is 8 ounces of chocolate milk, which has about 22 g of carbs and 8 g of protein.