Like many of my over-40 patients, you’re probably trying to stay healthy and active as you get older. Great! Yet, many of you may not know that once you pass the over-40 milestone you can lose as much as 8% of muscle mass every 10 years. That means by age 60, you could have lost as much as 16% muscle mass! And it accelerates even further after the age of 75. But this doesn’t have to be the case if you take measures to prevent it. Let me tell you about the 10 best foods that can make a big difference.
Why Does Muscle Loss Occur?
Muscle loss, or sarcopenia, has recently been given more recognition as the cause of many health problems associated with getting older. Allowed to go unchecked, it can seriously decrease your strength and mobility. It’s also one of the number one reasons why older people fall and suffer serious fractures.
Muscle loss can occur from a few causes such as:
- Weight loss diets
- Lack of resistance exercise
- Side effect of aging, decreasing hormones
- Too high acid diets from refined sugars and carbohydrates
- Decreased ability to break down and absorb proteins in your gut
The most common reason your muscles start to break down, as you get older is because you may not be eating enough good quality protein every day. Protein is a major building block in your body. If you don’t take in enough every day to use for its life-sustaining processes, it starts drawing protein from your muscles. The result is decreased muscle mass and strength.
In addition, you may also be creating a too-high acid environment in your blood from high sugar intake, alcohol, or carbohydrates. Too much acid can break down muscle tissues. So how do you stop the breakdown of muscle tissue in your body? You can start by eating the right foods at every meal.
The 10 Best Muscle Building Foods
Recent research studies show that older people actually may need more protein than younger people at higher levels than most commonly recommended. A good rule of thumb is to eat half your weight in protein grams. For example, if you weigh 160 lbs you should eat no less than 80 grams of high quality protein from a variety of food sources every day. Men may even want to increase that up to 100 grams. Some of the best sources include:
1. Cottage cheese/Milk. A cup of cottage cheese contains about 30 grams of long-sustaining casein protein! Three glasses of milk contain about 36 grams. That’s about 1/3 of your daily protein requirement. They’re also high in calcium which keeps bones strong and muscle fibers relaxed to prevent cramping.
2. Game meat, beef. You might not want to eat meat for various reasons but deer and buffalo game meat are two of the best sources of high quality, low fat/cholesterol proteins around. Grass fed beef is also high in iron to fuel muscle strength. They all contain high amounts of all the critical amino acids that help build muscle.
3. Lentils. A low calorie, but high protein/fiber food loaded with B vitamins and slow glycemic index carbs which can help fuel your resistance training workouts.
4. Seafood. Oysters are rich in zinc and protein and boost testosterone, both of which help build muscle. Mussels are high in protein and B12 and selenium a major antioxidant which can dampen inflammation. Salmon is a high quality protein rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which fight inflammation in muscles and promote healthy growth.
5. Lamb. A very high quality protein full of B12 that helps build muscles and helps muscles receive nerve impulses to move
6. Turkey. A high quality, low fat/calorie, economical protein – body builders swear by turkey to help them build muscle. Eat about 4-6 ounces before going to bed. Its natural tryptophan will help you sleep better and release growth hormone to repair muscles.
7. Eggs. A high quality, low cost protein, eggs also contain an array of amino acids that help build muscles. Pair them with lentils or oatmeal for breakfast for a long lasting energy that will help power your resistance training workouts.
8. Oatmeal. Gluten free, low glycemic, complex carb that you can mix protein powder into, or add a handful of nuts to, or eat as a snack before working out.
9. Green/Orange vegetables: Bok Choy, spinach, sweet potatoes, are full of vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. They help power your workouts as well as fight inflammation that can also deteriorate muscles.
10. Protein Powder with HMB. Add several scoops of protein powder to your oatmeal or in a chocolate/almond milk shake each day to ensure your protein intake. Make sure your protein powder contains HMB – a muscle building metabolite from the amino acid leucine. HMB helps build and protect muscles by a) strengthening the muscle cell wall b) preserving muscle tissue by slowing down the breakdown of protein c) promoting muscle growth by increasing protein synthesis. Adding HMG to your diet can help you regain 6% muscle mass in about 4 weeks.
Age-related muscle loss can deplete your strength and throw off your balance which can cause falls and serious injuries. If you’re dieting to lose weight, make sure you boost your protein intake with low calorie, high protein powders that include HMB. Include 20-30 minutes of resistance weight training in your routine 3-4 times a week to build muscle and boost your balance. Be sure to eat high quality proteins and low glycemic carbs at every meal to keep energy high, blood acid and inflammation levels low, and muscle strength increased.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.