One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Fighting Muscle Loss As You Age

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The sad truth about getting older is that it becomes more and more difficult to hold onto the plentiful lean muscle mass and low body fat we tend to take for granted during our younger years. An inevitable consequence of growing older is the increasing struggle to maintain lean muscle mass as the years pass. Even if you have been blessed with a genetic propensity for the optimal balance of lean tissue and body fat, be prepared to work harder over time to keep what you have. This also means that master’s competitors usually have to train harder to build muscle mass, and are also more sensitive to dietary fluctuations and digressions than their younger counterparts.

The good news is that there are steps which can be taken to combat the unfavorable shift in body composition which makes its appearance after one’s mid-thirties. Perhaps the MOST important intervention which the vast majority of you are already practicing is weight training. You can continue to challenge yourself and lift heavy, but you might want to consider adding glucosamine and turmeric to your supplement regimen to protect the joints and minimize inflammation. Another adaptation in the weight room which older athletes respond especially well to is unilateral training. Unilateral movements improve balance and coordination and make it impossible to correct strength imbalances.

Another way to naturally boost the body’s ability to combat aging which you are most likely already practicing is to consume adequate protein. When protein is consumed, a steady stream of glucose is released via glucagon without spiking insulin levels in the body. Conversely, a diet low in protein but high in carbohydrates results in high levels of insulin, which over the course of time can result in widespread inflammation, diabetes, and obesity. Surprisingly, the protein needs of people from middle age on (40’s and over) increase as a result of diminished protein synthesis in the aging body. Protein intake must be increased in order to offset the deficiency. If you are already weight lifting regularly and taking in sufficient protein, you may want to consider boosting your intake of glutamine and branched chain amino acids, particularly leucine. These building blocks help to optimize the body’s ability to utilize dietary protein to build new muscle and repair damaged muscle fibers.

Though animal sources of protein are excellent options for people of any age, whey protein in particular is a remarkable protein source in older people. It is highly absorbable, contains all 18 amino acids, immunoglobulins and lactoferrin, and all the building blocks for a powerful antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione deficiency is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, asthma and cancer, and because of this, it is considered a key substance in combating the process of aging. Natural glutathione production in the body declines with age, but with whey protein on board, the amino acids necessary for glutathione production are supplied to the body and optimal levels can be attained as a result.

Though athletes and competitors are aware of the health and muscle building benefits of whey protein, I am astonished by how it is not utilized nearly enough by the average person. All too often I see patients who regularly skip meals and eat fast foods and other processed foods, and who assume that whey protein is only for athletes. If you are an average person who wants to change poor eating habits and optimize cellular function, then you need to boost protein intake and add whey as one of your protein sources. You are doing yourself a disservice if you insist on eating junk carbs like simple sugars and processed foods, skipping meals, and consuming insufficient protein, especially if you are over the age of 35 and trying to fend off disease and aging.

If you are proactive and consistent about taking the necessary steps to battle age-related muscle loss, you will reap the benefits of better health and vitality and will rival those half your age with a muscular physique to be envied.

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