Sarcopenia is the muscle loss that naturally occurs in adults over 30, due to the normal aging process. The statistics are grim – most of us will lose between 5 and 10 percent of our lean muscle mass every decade after 30, unless we do something about it. Oh wait, it gets worse – as we age, our previous effort levels won’t be enough to achieve the same results they once did. This is primarily due to reduced levels of the hormones responsible for protein synthesis and muscle growth.
Don’t resign yourself to bingo arms just yet, though, because there are a few things you can do to stop sarcopenia in its tracks:
1. Strength training, and lots of it. If you’ve never lifted weights before, or if you quit doing it a long time ago, then please pay attention to this: Resistance training is the only way to increase your muscle mass. You can run thousands of miles a year or do 300 minutes of yoga a week, or ride your bike to work and home every day and you will not build any muscle. There’s a good chance the muscles targeted by those activities won’t atrophy, but they won’t get any bigger either. That’s because the demand being placed on them is relatively the same each time. In order to place a much greater demand on your muscles and promote growth, you have to use resistance – weights, bands, your own body, bags of groceries, whatever. But whatever you use, it needs to be heavy enough so that you can only lift it about 12 times.
If you’re new to strength training, then do a total body circuit once through, two days per week and use weights that you can do 12 to 15 repetitions of for each exercise. After you’ve been doing it for awhile, do that same circuit two or three times through and increase the weights so that you can only perform 8 to 12 repetitions. Once you’ve been strength training twice a week every week for two or three months, then you can get serious about building muscle. There are so many options for you at that point, I can’t list them all here. I recommend you find a trainer who can help you come up with a program targeted specifically to your goals.
2. Go to bed. Remember that part about the hormones – how your body is producing fewer of them now than it used to? Well your old friend sleep can help a little bit here. When you’re sleeping, you finally give your body a chance to do all of its housekeeping. Specifically, it’s during sleep that your endocrine system produces and releases a whole host of hormones, including some that control protein synthesis and muscle growth. Getting a full night’s rest – at least seven hours of sleep every night – can help you keep the muscle you’ve got and build more if you’re strength training properly.
3. Eat protein all day long. Please note that I did not say eat more protein. You already get plenty, and anyway a high-protein diet has not been shown any more effective than a normal diet (1 gram of protein per kg of body weight) for increasing muscle mass. What can make a difference is the timing of your protein consumption. Getting between 20 and 30 grams of protein at every single meal has been shown to increase protein synthesis in adults young and old. So aim to steadily supply your body with muscle-building protein throughout the day, rather than getting 2/3 or more of your daily intake at one sitting.
For you youngsters in your 20’s and 30’s now would be a great time to take advantage of your body’s natural muscle-building tendencies and build up a nice store for those later years.