Why is muscle strength so often overlooked when it comes to healthy aging? It’s quite silly considering the myriad ways it influences your health. Beyond being able to move heavy objects, muscle mass and strength can help protect and strengthen bones, boost metabolism, improve balance, reduce the risk of falls, liven you up, and make life a little easier. If you ask me, it’s right up there with cardiovascular health.
But it’s entirely possible you don’t even think about it. And why would you? Gyms can be intimidating, and your doctor never checks muscle mass or strength after your blood pressure. But the reality is that muscle mass plays a key role in aging, health, and longevity. It’s crazy doctors that don’t talk more about it!
You lose muscle and strength with every passing year and it’s going to happen regardless of your lifestyle. But if you put a little work in to maintain it, it’s going to have way less impact. Making muscle maintenance part of your daily routine can help prevent osteoporosis and sarcopenia, a condition marked by loss of muscle and strength.
If you’re 65 or older, this is even more important as risk for musculoskeletal illness and injuries increase. Along with trying to lift weights three or four times per week, eating enough protein is essential to building and maintaining muscle. New research is showing that people 65 and older—and I would venture to say that every adult—benefit from eating more protein in their diet than is currently recommended.
Current recommendations for protein intake are 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Research, however, is lifting that number up to 1.5 g/kg or more, or totaling around 30 percent of daily calories. One study from 2015 found that adults over 50 eating double the daily recommended protein intake (1.5 g/kg) were better at building and maintaining muscle than those eating the RDA. Results were noticed in as little as four days!
When it comes to protein for muscle and strength gains, they are not all created equal. Animal products, which are complete proteins, are superior to plant-based proteins. Going even further, animal foods that are high in leucine—an amino acid with enhanced muscle-building power—are typically the best choices. Some great options include beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
If eating that much protein per day (30 g per meal and more in snacks) seems like a struggle, you can include supplements into your diet. Whey protein is a great option, as are other general supplements with leucine. Boosting protein intake can help you build muscle, protect your bones and increase the quality of your daily life.