Sarcopenia is a slow process characterized by a loss of muscle mass, strength and function related to aging. Subtle at first, sarcopenia can begin in your 40’s with about 1% muscle loss per year and becomes more consequential as you age, impacting your daily physical function and independence. Mobility, falls, osteoporosis, fractures as well as diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and metabolic syndrome can all be associated with sarcopenia.
Current estimates suggest approximately 200 million people worldwide will experience sarcopenia to a degree that could affect their health over the next 4 decades. However, with this dreary prognosis of aging comes hope. Scientists are discovering ways to preserve your muscles and reduce this age-related loss.
What you eat and how you move are the keys to healthy aging.
Bump up your Food Intake with High Quality Protein
As you age your ability to stimulate muscle building is diminished and your body requires more high quality proteins to meet your needs. Protein from animal sources such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs and isolated soy protein contain all of the essential amino acids for muscle protein synthesis and should be enjoyed daily. As you increase your intake of these high quality proteins pay special attention to milk proteins. Rich in casein and whey protein as well as the muscle building amino acid leucine, researchers have found it to be very beneficial in preventing muscle loss as well as building muscle in older adults.
- Try greek yogurt with your morning mueslix-fruit mix.
- Add powdered milk to soups, casseroles, mashed potatoes and your glass of milk.
- Add a scoop of protein powder with whey and micellar casein to your evening smoothie.
Timing is Part of the Battle
If you want to build and maintain lean muscle mass, spacing your protein intake throughout the day is essential. Contrary to the typical North American diet of a tiny amount of protein rich foods at breakfast and a protein frenzy at dinner, you should include 25-30 grams of high quality protein at each meal to stop age-related muscle loss. 30/30/30 should now be your protein meal mantra.
Breakfast is a struggle for many. On those busy mornings consider:
- ¾ cup cottage cheese with fruit, 1 slice whole grain toast with 2 T nut butter.
- Steel cut oats in the slow cooker overnight. Add 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 T nut mix and berries to your morning bowl.
- 2 hard boiled eggs, ¾ cup plain greek yogurt with fruit and 1 T flax seed/chia.
Check your Supplements
Are vitamin D and omega 3 on your radar for healthy aging? They should be for omega 3’s role in fighting inflammation and vitamin D’s potential role in muscle protein synthesis. Both are poorly consumed and should be given special attention in your diet.
- Broil trout for dinner, add salmon to a salad or walnuts in your morning greek yogurt to increase your omega 3 fat intake.
- Eggs for breakfast and milk with meals will help to increase your vitamin D levels.
- Consider a supplement for both nutrients if your diet falls short.
Use Your Muscles
“Use it, or lose it.” This saying has never been truer than when it comes to your muscles. Resistance exercise is important to increase muscle mass, strength and functional performance in older adults. Adding resistance training to your exercise program combined with good dietary habits will keep you healthy for decades to come.
- You don’t need a gym to push those muscles, resistance training can happen at home, work or your local park. Strive for 3x/wk.
- Try walking or swimming to complement your resistance routine.
For Additional Reading
- Sarcopenia: definition, epidemiology and pathophysiology. J Bone Metab. 2013 May:20(1): 1-10.
Vitamin D and Human Skeletal Muscle. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Apr; 20(2): 182–190.
- Nutritional Supplements in Support of Resistance Exercise to Counter Age-Related Sarcopenia. Advances in Nutrition. 2015 July; 6(4): 452-60.
- Alterations in human muscle protein metabolism with aging. Protein and exercise as countermeasures to offset sarcopenia. BioFactors 2014 March/April; 40(2): 199-205.
- Fish Oil Supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012 January; 95(2): 428-436.
- More than healthy bones: a review of vitamin D in muscle health. Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease. 2015 Aug;7(4):152-9.