Viewpoints presented in this blog reflect opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.
They say the best years of your life are in your 20s - some now argue 30s. However, while you are building your career and family, your body may be reaching its peak! Research indicates that maximum physical capacity is reached when people are between 20-30 years old, and once 30 or 40 strikes, the body can start undergoing changes in muscle mass, power and strength. 1,2 The loss of muscle and strength continues progressively, with estimates that up to half of muscle mass can be lost by the age of 80.3
Before you start panicking, research also shows that there are some things you can do to help slow, delay or minimize the loss of muscle and strength.
Amount and Type of Exercise
Exercise has long been documented as an intervention to help decrease muscle loss with aging and delay the onset of functional limitations in older people. But how much should be recommended and does the type of exercise matter?
Resistance training has received a lot of recognition for its beneficial impact on age-related muscle loss. And many studies are now finding benefits of both resistance and endurance exercise, and the benefits of physical activity in general.4 Any regular physical activity is preferable to no activity at all and may have a protective effect on muscle mass and metabolic health.6 Therefore, while resistance training should always be encouraged, a balanced program with both endurance and strength exercises may be beneficial to reduce age-related muscle loss.
How much exercise is needed? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults engage in 2½ - 5 hours of exercise per week for substantial to more extensive health benefits. When it comes to age-related muscle loss, many reviews and experts recommend strength and endurance exercise be performed on a regular schedule, or at least 3 days a week.4,5
Amount and Type of Protein Intake
Research shows that the amount of protein consumed per day and at each meal, as well as the type of protein matters when it comes to mitigating muscle loss with aging.
Moderately increasing daily protein intake above the RDA - or increasing to 1.0 to 1.5 g/kg/day - may offer health benefits in aging adults.6 Research has also looked at the impact of a specific amount of protein at a single meal. Some data indicates that eating about 25 to 30g of protein per meal maximally stimulates protein synthesis in both young and older individuals. However, intake greater than 30g of protein in a single meal does not seem to further augment protein synthesis. One study showed that feeding 30g of protein via lean beef increased muscle protein synthesis by 50% in young and older adults, but when the individuals were fed 90 g of protein, they did not experience incremental protein synthesis.7
Type of protein may matter as well. Studies indicate that high-quality proteins - such as eggs, milk and beef, which are easily digested and contain all the essential amino acids, may aid in muscle synthesis in older adults.8 This may be because animal proteins generally have higher amounts of the amino acid, leucine, which plays an important role in the stimulation of protein synthesis. Research also shows that leucine can potentially protect muscle mass and function in middle-aged adults during inactivity.9
Putting it Together
Exercise and protein intake have been independently demonstrated to help delay or decrease age-related muscle loss, but research also demonstrates the power of combining the two.10
For additional information and a deep dive on how to build lean body mass, check out this report by Dave Ellis, veteran sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist.
Incorporating some of these tips and tricks may help make the best years of your life in your 50s, 60s and beyond.
Rachel Bassler is a Board Certified Sports Dietitian and the Senior Manager, Nutrition Communications at the Egg Nutrition Center. Prior to joining ENC in October of 2015, Rachel was a Senior Scientist at Kraft Foods where she focused on nutrition communications and health professional outreach. Prior to that, Rachel worked at two different global public relations agencies where she supported a number of food clients.
Rachel holds a BS in dietetics and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She completed her dietetic internship at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital.
1. Keller K, Engelhardt M. Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and Strength loss. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2013;3: 346-350.
2. Paddon-Jones D, Short KR, Campbell WW, Volpi E, Wolfe RR. Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(suppl):1562S-6S.
3. Walston JD. Sarcopenia in older adults. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2012;24:623-627.
4. Landi F, Marzetti E, Martone AM, Onder G. Exercise as a remedy for sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr. 2014;17:25-31.
5. Phu S, Moersma D, Duque G. Exercise and Sarcopenia. J Clin Densitometry. 2015;18:488-492.
6. Paddon-Jones D, Campbell WW, Jacques PF, et al. Protein and healthy aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(Suppl):1339S-45S.
7. Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D. Moderating the portion size of a protein-rich meal improves anabolic efficiency in young and elderly. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:1582-1586.
8. Pannemans DLE, Wagenmakers AJ, Westerterp KR, Schaafsma G, Halliday D. Effect of protein source and quantity on protein metabolism in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68:1228-35.
9. English KL, Mettler JA, Ellison JB, et al. Leucine partially protects muscle mass and function during bed rest in middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103:465-73.
10. Campbell WW. Synergistic Use of Higher-Protein Diets or Nutritional Supplements with Resistance Training to Counter Sarcopenia. Nutr Rev. 2007;65:416-422.