Masters Core Fitness
The New Complement: Your Muscles Look Great!

Flexed Muscles

The New Complement: Your Muscles Look Great!

Posted on December 15, 2014 at 23:42 PM

As a nation, we spend what seems like a gazillion dollars on products to keep our skin looking young, not to mention the predisposition of women to iron away wrinkles with Botox and derma fillers. Frankly, I would never disparage either a man or a woman from using these methods if it elevates self-esteem and confidence.

While I want to grow old gracefully, I also believe it is just fine to grow old gracefully by taking advantage of technology. [Just get a board certified plastic surgeon.]

Technology, of course, comes in many shapes and forms: Sometimes it is a new laser to zap away hyper-pigmentation and stimulate collagen. Other times, it may be more drastic, for example, a new technique to suck away fat from, say, the flanks and redeposit it in other places, such as underneath the eyes, to get rid of those dreaded “cheek dents” as we age.

Again, these methods primarily focus on making the skin we’re in look better from the outside. But there’s a lot going on inside our bodies that deserve as much attention.

Your muscles, for one. In fact, they’re a big one. When was the last time you took a hard look at the care and feeding of your muscles?

They need protein throughout the day — every day — to restore muscle fiber. That’s because your muscles are in a constant state of degradation, just like everything else in your body. Losing muscle is a natural cellular process of aging. It happens to everybody.

The medical term for the loss of muscle, strength and function is sarcopenia. It typically begins after 30 years of age and accelerates after 50. Even at 30, you’re at risk for losing 3 percent to 5 percent of your muscle mass per decade if you are physically inactive.

If you don’t eat enough protein and don’t exercise, you will begin to lose muscle mass, strength and eventually functionality at a faster rate, putting yourself on a path to develop that look of frailty. A recent article in Advances in Nutrition found that even walking less (for example, reducing the number of daily steps from about 6,000 to 1,500) was enough to reduce lean mass and increase fat mass in both young and older adults.

Moreover, physical inactivity also alters your body’s ability to digest and absorb protein to repair muscle fiber, meaning your body becomes less effective at utilizing protein to make new muscle. Leading a sedentary lifestyle throws your body into a state where you’re losing muscle fiber faster than you’re rebuilding it. This combination accelerates the “biologic age” of skeletal muscle, according to the article, “Keeping Older Muscle Young through Dietary Protein and Physical Activity.”

Again, you don’t have to be old for this phenomenon to occur.

But the amazing thing about the human body, even when you’re older, is that your muscles can act like they were young again and rebuild themselves, provided you exercise and eat an optimal amount of protein after a workout. Eating protein at this time stimulates your body’s ability to maximize the amino acids it contains to make new muscle; otherwise your muscle will begin to lose mass, that is, you will look like the skin is hanging off your bones.

If you don’t want to eat because you feel that you’ll diminish the effect of all of the calories you’ve just burned, I would argue that you should consider a paradigm shift in your thinking because of the damage you’re doing to your muscles and long-term health. You may not visibly see it in your 30s, but if you don’t eat protein after your workout, the muscle deterioration that will occur will become more visible with age.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that all men and women over the age of 19 should eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. That means a woman who is 130 pounds should get at least 48 grams of protein a day. A 4-ounce roasted chicken breast provides about 35 grams of that protein.

But the USDA figures are the bare minimum for individuals leading a sedentary lifestyle. When you get out of that zone and ramp up your level of physical activity, you’ll need more protein. To find out how much more, head over to the University of Maryland Medical System protein calculator.

After submitting basic information about yourself (age, height, weight), you’re asked to choose your level of physical activity, from sedentary to light to moderate to very active. For very active individuals, your daily protein intake will be twice that of someone who’s sedentary.

When choosing protein, lean toward eating protein sources high in leucine, an essential amino acid. It helps turn on your body’s switch to restore muscle. Your body needs to get it from food, not supplements. These food sources include soybeans, eggs, lentils, salmon, shrimp, almonds, walnuts, chickpeas, flax seed, asparagus, snap peas and top-round beef.

Answers to questions about nutrient timing, optimal intake of protein and exertion level of physical activity to stave off sarcopenia will continue to evolve. For now, eat a little bit better and workout a little bit harder to keep your muscles happy and healthy.

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