You’re only as old as you feel in the gym. Science says you can feel stronger and even reverse ageing with a little nutritional and lifting knowhow. Third Space explains
50 is the new 40. 60 is the new 50. Hell, 70 is the new 30. Today we show little sign of slowing down as we age. Our evermore hectic lifestyles and the demands of friends, family commitments, not to mention an overflowing inbox, have taken over. Who’s got the time to get old, anyway? But while your mind is busy elsewhere, your body and muscles have another idea. The march of Father Time at a physiological level is unavoidable. Or so we thought.
Sarcopenia is a biological term that describes the inevitable degradation of muscle and strength as you age. “Your body can start the process as early as your mid-thirties although you may feel fine,” reveals Third Space trainer, Seb James. “After the age of 50 it is estimated that you will consistently lose 1-2% of your muscle mass per year.”
The problem is, unless you put in the effort now, your body follows your lead and begins to throw in the towel, too. Hormones change and others subside, including insulin-growth like factor, testosterone and growth hormone – all of which are essential for double-tappable gym selfies today, but much more importantly, a body that is fit for life. Protein requirements also change as your body’s ability to synthesise protein and therefore build muscle diminishes.
According to James, this mixed with a sedentary lifestyle can cause any person between the age of 30 and 60 to gain 0.5kg of weight and lose 0.25kg of muscle per year. Eventually it all adds up. “This has long been seen as an inevitable part of growing old and can have a knock-on effect causing loss of balance, posture and have a negative effect on daily living,” explains James. “However, more and more experts believe that it is possible to prevent, delay, and in some cases reverse sarcopenia.”
So here’s the solution. And thankfully it comes as part of your gym membership.
The Muscle Plan
To step into a muscle-bound time machine you need to continue with your regular aerobic exercise, but add in two days of resistance training, too. If that sounds easy, that’s because it is. This complex physiological issue has a simple solution – heavy metal.
This bit may look boring, but take notes:
Resistance Training – target the major muscle groups in your upper and lower body with free weights and machines. Compound movements that use multiple joints (bench press, shoulder press, squats and deadlifts) should be your go-to for maximum benefit.
At least two days a week select 8-10 exercises. Perform 1-3 sets per exercise lifting slowly and under control using a weight around 60-80% of your maximum effort. Complete 8-12 reps per set and rest for 1-3 minutes between sets. Listen to your body and give yourself enough rest to ensure you have enough in the tank to complete the next set.
Power Training – this is to be completed after your resistance training and should follow a similar format, but instead you need to lift with lighter weights (30-60% of your max effort) for 6-10 reps per set. The key difference here, though, is that you need to lift fast. The reps need to be explosive. Together resistance and power training will target different types of muscle fibres to maximise the hormonal response and stimulate the most growth. Think of it as a one-two punch to ageing.
The Diet Plan
Now we’re getting into the meat of the subject. The most effective way to build age proof muscle is to match exercise with nutrition. It sounds obvious, but there are simple but important tweaks to make as you get older.
Protein requirement is a hotly debated topic, the recommended protein intake for the average adult is 0.8g per kg of bodyweight per day. It’s not much, but a large portion of adults still don’t hit this amount. As you get older your protein need increases as your muscles need extra support to maintain size and strength. A study in the Journal of Sports Science recommends a protein intake of between 1.3-1.8g/kg for optimal recovery in athletes. Basically, higher protein intakes can prevent muscle loss, even if you’re currently on a weightloss diet trying to shift some of your middle-age spread.
Here are two simple ways to add protein to your diet.
“I would not advocate swapping meals for supplement drinks, however a post-workout shake is a great way to add protein to your existing diet with minimal hassle,” says James. Most fitness professionals do the same not because protein shakes are magic, but because including them with an already great diet can give you the edge. They’re convenient, healthy and tasty (the Natural Fitness Food PB&J, for example).
Take vitamin D3, too. During the winter months (November-March) the British sun does not provide enough support to top up your levels. Especially not with the Beast from the East hanging around. But low levels of the sunshine vitamin are linked to low muscle strength. A pill is the quickest way to brighten your prospects of long term growth.
Rethink your snacks
Have a look at what you’re currently snacking on and consider whether you can make a high-protein swap or addition. If you are having a banana, then why not chop it up and stick in some Greek yogurt? Add a drizzle of honey and you’re on to a winner. The same applies to your side dishes, too. It’s not only a meal’s main event that contains muscle food. Add some legumes or even spinach for added punch.
No one wants to get old, but don’t push it to the back of your mind. The reality is, the younger you start thinking about it, the longer you’ll be able to stage a defence against ageing’s advance. Thanks to modern medicine we’re all going to live longer, but it’s up to you to make the most of those extra years. Excuse the American schmaltz, but you need to focus on extending your healthspan, rather than your lifespan, every time you cross the gym threshold. So whether you’re in your thirties or your eighties hit the squat rack and then treat yourself to a protein shake – it’s the strongest, tastiest route to long term health.