Tweak Your Diet To Fight Age-Related Muscle Loss
By Jess Walter
After the age of 30, we begin to lose three to five percent of our muscle mass each decade. This is known as sarcopenia, and involves the loss of strength, function and overall muscle mass. When ignored, it can lead to pain and disability, so taking steps to combat it as we age is essential to keeping us strong and independent for as long as possible. While some muscle wastage is an inevitable part of aging, it’s possible to minimize it by including resistance exercise in our daily routines, but what we put into our bodies can also do a lot to help.
The Power Of Protein
If you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, you’re at a higher risk of losing muscle, but even if you already consume sufficient protein, increasing your intake can help promote muscle growth and maximize the benefits of resistance exercise. Protein tells our muscle tissues to grow and strengthen, but as we age, our muscles find it harder to read this signal, which means our protein needs are higher. A Dutch study of men over 70 found that their muscle growth increased when they ate a meal containing 35g of protein, in comparison to the 20g required by younger men. Protein-rich foods include eggs, fish, meat, Greek yogurt and beans and legumes, and should be eaten with every meal. Approximately 20-30 percent of our daily calories should come from protein, and it’s recommended that older adults aim for the higher end of this scale.
Key Vitamins and Minerals
A Vitamin D deficiency can increase the likelihood of sarcopenia, and Vitamin D can be particularly easy to miss out on. The sun is one of the best sources of Vitamin D, so aim to get outside daily. However, during bad weather, this can be difficult, so try to also include foods such as milk, milk alternatives and cereals in your diet: these are often fortified with Vitamin D, so check the labels when you’re shopping. Natural sources of Vitamin D include mushrooms, seafood and fatty fish, with the latter also being an extremely valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that omega-3 may increase muscle growth, further combating age-related muscle wastage. Creatine is also found in oily fish, as well as in red meat, and this can help prevent muscle loss, as it enables the muscles to produce energy when they’re used.
Enhancing the Diet
While much can be done through diet and exercise to reduce muscle loss, supplementing the diet can also be helpful. Selective androgen receptor modulators, more commonly known as SARMs, are often associated with bodybuilding, but they were originally created to help chronic conditions, including muscle wastage. They work to make the muscles more sensitive to testosterone, encouraging muscle growth and bone density, and have been shown to decrease muscle wastage in older cancer patients. Vitamin D can also be taken as a supplement if you’re unable to get enough through diet alone, as can creatine, although if you’re consuming enough oily fish and meat to reach your protein requirements, it’s likely that taking this as a supplement won’t be necessary. However, for vegetarians and those who dislike seafood, both creatine and omega-3 supplements or cod liver oil can fill in gaps in the diet.
Some muscle loss is inevitable as we age, and regular exercise that includes resistance training can help minimize its effects. However, it’s also important to pay attention to what we’re putting into our bodies as we get older in order to promote healthy muscle growth. Older adults are advised to increase their protein intake and ensure that they’re consuming a healthy variety of vitamins and minerals in order to maintain muscle mass and remain healthy and strong as they age and taking muscle-enhancing supplements can also be an advantage.