As we all know, the human body is not immune to aging. Muscle and strength loss is a hallmark of the aging process, but bodies are quite resilient when we give them what they need.
There are a number of reasons that we begin to lose muscle and strength as we age. We often move less, skip meals, eat less food (or lesser quality food), while at the same time our body is less effective at building muscle as it ages. This results in a net loss of strength, but luckily we can do something about it!
By providing your body with regular strength building exercises, you can reduce the loss of muscle and paired with the right diet can actually build muscle and regain the ability to easily do activities that have become challenging or unsafe to do. For some people that might be climbing stairs or getting up off of the floor, for others that might be playing your favorite sports or competing in a race. The key to building more muscle and increasing strength is protein – quality, quantity, and timing. Quality refers to protein that has all of the essential amino acids and is also easily absorbable. The quantity of protein that stimulates muscle to grow is around 30 grams at one sitting. Timing refers to spreading out your protein intake throughout the day. A number of studies have concluded that eating 30 grams of high quality protein three times a day can better stimulate muscle synthesis than a typical pattern of eating.
The opportunity for maximum protein synthesis (or building and maintaining muscle) is greatest in older adults at a quantity of 30 grams of high-quality protein. The illustration above shows protein intake (blue solid line), and probable level of building lean body mass (dashed line). A typical protein intake shown on the left produces suboptimal lean muscle growth because the 30 gram threshold is only occurring once a day. While the suggested 30 grams of high quality protein eaten three times throughout the day offers the maximum opportunity for building up and maintain lean body mass.
What is high quality protein? It is protein that includes all of the essential amino acids and is also easily absorbable. Animal based proteins are the highest quality in terms of amino acid profile and absorption. Lean meat, eggs, Greek yogurt, and whey protein powder provide these important qualities. Plant based proteins should still be on your menu, but the most effective way to build muscle with diet is by eating animal based proteins.
Here are a few ways to get that 30 grams of protein in at each meal:
- 1 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt with 1 cup of fruit
- A smoothie or oatmeal with 1 to 2 scoops of whey protein powder (depends on brand, enough to give you 30 grams of protein)
- 2 whole eggs + 2 egg whites with whole grain toast or in a tortilla
- Salad, sandwich, or soup with 4 oz of lean poultry, beef, or pork
- Similar to lunch – 4 oz of any lean meat with vegetables and a starch (rice, pasta, bread, quinoa, sweet potato, or winter squash)
Well, I’m hungry now. These suggestions are based mainly on protein and do not cover the other components of a healthy diet. Want to learn more? Here are some other sources or contact your in-house Vivo registered dietitian to schedule a session at firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading and resources:
By Jamie Rincker, MS Registered Dietitian