The two requirements for building muscle at any age

You may be a young healthy athlete interested in building muscle for improved performance. Or, you may simply be a retired person who wants adequate muscle strength to climb stairs, lift a grocery bag at the store, and maintain independent living. In either case, there are two key principles in maintaining good muscle strength.

First, muscles need to be challenged (do more work than regularly required) to grow stronger. The best way to build strength is by weight lifting, working out on resistance machines, or using your own body weight as in doing push-ups and curl-ups. Doing a strengthening exercise to near muscle fatigue (meaning your muscle is tired and you can’t or don’t want to do any more repetitions) gives maximum stimulus to the muscle to grow stronger, even in people in their 70s or 80s.

The second requirement is to supply the muscles with adequate protein needed for building stronger muscles. Research shows that muscles are maximally stimulated to uptake protein and rebuild muscles immediately after your strength building exercises are completed. Both the strength exercises and the increased amino acids in the blood stimulate muscle growth. Getting the protein into the system at the right time resulted in the best rate of muscle growth. Furthermore, plant protein is the protein of choice in my practice at Eventus.

Maintaining adequate muscle mass and strength is a very important component of good health, especially as one reaches the age of 45 or older. At this age, muscle mass decreases about 1% each year unless slowed with strength building exercises. Lack of adequate muscle and strength is the primary reason people can’t maintain independent living. The best time to build muscle strength is when you are young. In addition to improving your shape and function, adequate muscle mass can help you all your life by improving metabolism, burning more calories even when resting, and helps your body regulate blood glucose levels.

However, your muscles respond to strength training at any age. In a study by the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, researchers tested strength training on people age 70 and above. In a 12-week, 3-day-per-week strength training program, these older people improved muscle mass by 32% and strength by 30%. They also saw improvements in balance and walking.

In summary, a low level of activity and/or a low protein intake results in faster loss of muscle mass, called sarcopenia, which results in frailty in older age. Engaging in strength building exercise 2-3 days per week all your life, especially in older age, is a great way to maintain good health, strong muscles, and independent living. Eating adequate plant protein is also important, especially soon after exercising for building stronger, healthier

More Resources:

Low Protein + Low Exercise = Sarcopenia, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wilkinson SB, et al. Milk and soy proteins after weight lifting. American Journal

of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85:1031-1040.

USDA Agricultural Research Service. Low Protein + Low Exercise = Sarcopenia

U. S. Department of Agriculture website.