Many of my over-40 male patients are concerned that they are losing muscle mass and ask me if there are any special exercises they can do to keep their muscles strong. Yes, there are many strength and muscle mass-building methods that can be done in a gym, or at home, with specific weight training.
In addition, one of the first things I tell my patients about maintaining and building muscle mass is to spend a little time in the kitchen! No, not weight training with the appliances, rather, spending some time preparing the correct type of foods that will help you build muscle from the inside out. Let me explain how.
As I frequently explain to my patients, optimal nutrition is the cornerstone of not only achieving and maintaining a healthy weight but also of preserving all-important muscle tissue. Muscle strength is important throughout all your life, but especially as you get older as it helps you stay active. As we get older, we all experience somesarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, at a rate of 0.4 pounds of muscle a year!
However, one of the big reasons we lose muscle mass is most always because our nutritional intake of protein, and critical muscle-preserving nutrients like carnitine and other vitamins and minerals that feed and preserve muscles are likely inadequate. Here are the foods and nutrients that will help you preserve and build muscle strength:
- Protein: Lean meats including beef, buffalo, and chicken. Also fish, eggs, cheese, milk, and legumes, nuts (especially high Vitamin E almonds) and powdered flavored protein supplements (made from whey, calcium caseinate, soy, or milk/egg proteins) that can be mixed into juice, milk or water. Calculate protein needs based on your ideal weight multiplied by 0.3 to 0.5 grams. For example, if you should weigh 180, 180 x 0.3-0.5 would give you a range of 54 to 90 grams per day. Read labels and make sure you’re getting enough to feed your muscles.
- Produce: Fruits, vegetables for fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, fluid and antioxidants. However, if you need to lose fat, stick more to vegetables and limit fruit to very low sugar varieties like blueberries, etc. for a while.
- Carbohydrates: Low glycemic index carbs like brown rice, barley, whole grain bread and low sugar cereals, help feed your muscles the necessary glucose they need to keep them moving and growing properly.
- Carnitine: If you are a vegan, and losing muscle mass, you may be deficient in L-carnitine, which is found most abundantly in lean meat. However, it is available in health food stores as a supplement. If you have a thyroid disorder, ask your doctor about how to take L-carnitine supplements as it can block thyroid medications.
- Glutamine: Glutamine is an amino acid that helps build muscle. 1-2 tsp in water, milk, juice, post weight training work out will help your muscles recover and stimulate them to grow. I like to take glutamine in an 8 oz glass of low fat, low sugar chocolate milk.
- Creatine: Helps muscles grow. Good natural sources are lean cuts of beef or can be taken in supplement form as well.
- Water: As I always stress, optimal hydration is good for every part of you, including your muscles. Muscles are approximately 80% water so you need enough water every day to keep muscles working properly and prevent cramping. Research has proven that the better hydrated you are, the better your muscles can make use of the protein you eat.
- Coffee/caffeine: Studies show that a little caffeine before workouts can help you go longer and work harder. In addition, coffee drinkers have a 30% decreased risk of Parkinson disease, which causes a paralysis-like stiffness of the muscles in the body.
- Olive oil: Pure extra virgin olive oil eaten daily has “anticatabolic” properties, or stops muscle “eating” by a cellular protein called TNF (tumor necrosis factor) which can cause muscle wasting and weakness. Take 1 tablespoon a day; either mix with your vegetables or with equal amounts of red wine vinegar on your salad. Or take it straight from the spoon!
What Else Preserves/Builds Muscle?
Some of my patients, in an attempt to lose body fat faster, do a lot of heavier aerobic exercise (running, treadmill, etc), i.e., more than 45 minutes a day x 7 days a week. This is counterproductive and can actually cause you to lose muscle! To preserve/build muscles, here’s what type of exercise I recommend:
- Aerobic exercise, like sprinting, jogging, elliptical machine, treadmill, optimally, should not be done more than 30-40 minutes at a time, 4-5 times a week. Better to do intervals as well consisting of a 10 minute warm-up, followed by 1-2 minutes of higher intensity movement, followed by a 2-5 minute rest, then repeat 1-2 minutes higher intensity, for about 20-30 minutes total, with another 10 minute lower intensity wind down. On remaining days, take a break, or do lighter aerobic exercise like Pilates, stretching yoga, leisurely walking or a sightseeing speed bike ride.
- Eat about 15-20 grams of protein before each aerobic workout session.
- Resistance strength weight training 3-4 times per week with progressively heavier weights.
I hope these tips and recommendations will help you think differently about how to go about preserving and building muscle mass. Starting with the healthiest foods and optimal nutrition you can give your body will put you on the right road to strong muscles that will help keep you active throughout your entire life!