The commonly known saying, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes,” could have added muscle mass loss too. That’s because a natural part of aging that every single one of us will develop, to some degree, is losing muscle mass. Loss of muscle mass has a name, and it’s called sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is an involuntary, gradual loss of muscle mass and strength as we age. Sarcopenia affects around 30% of people over 60 and 50% of people aged 80 and older. No matter your gender, ethnicity, or place of residence, everyone can be affected by sarcopenia. It’s an equal opportunity condition.
Why should we be concerned about losing muscle mass with age? For one, sarcopenia is a prime reason older adults lose their independence. Lose muscle mass, and you lose the ability to do simple tasks such as climbing stairs or getting dressed daily.
Sarcopenia also places us at risk for the following:
- Increased risk of falls and fractures
- Difficulty with walking
- Decrease in stamina
- Decrease in muscle strength
- Weak bones – osteoporosis
- Loss of physical function and independence
At age 35, sarcopenia will gradually reduce muscle tissue by 3 percent per decade. Lost muscle is replaced with fat, even when body weight remains unchanged. Even thin people can still have a high percent body fat content if they do little to maintain muscle mass leading to sarcopenia.
Our job is to preserve as much muscle mass as possible while aging. Therefore, the earlier you start, the greater your chance of maintaining adequate muscle mass to enjoy an active lifestyle well into old age.
But how is this done? How do we maintain adequate muscle mass to avoid the risks associated with sarcopenia?
Two ways to be proactive against sarcopenia
- Weight training
Weight or strength training plays a significant role in maintaining muscle mass. There’s no way around it: preserving muscle mass requires regular strength training. Strength training two to three times each week is very effective in maintaining muscle tissue and improving bone health, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Examples of strength training include the following:
- Using body weight as resistance to perform pushups, pull-ups, or squats
- Lifting free weights or dumbbells
- Lifting kettle balls
- Using resistance bands
- Climbing stairs
- Using weight machines at a gym
- Adequate protein
Most people in the United States are not protein deficient, but there are two reasons many people develop sarcopenia. One is protein quality, and the second is protein distribution.
- Protein Quality
Protein comes from 2 sources – animals (beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods) and plants (grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables).
There are 20 amino acids proteins are comprised of and referred to as the building blocks of this nutrient. Of of these 20 amino acids, nine of them are not made by the body and are therefore called “essential amino acids,” meaning we can only get them from food sources. The remaining 11 amino acids (called nonessential) our body can make. The essential amino acids help stimulate and support muscle protein synthesis.
Animal protein sources and soybeans provide all nine essential amino acids and are referred to as complete protein. Plant protein sources are called incomplete proteins since they lack or are missing all nine essential amino acids. However, you can combine plant protein sources to form a complete protein, such as rice and beans or peanut butter with whole wheat bread to make a peanut butter sandwich.
- Protein Distribution
Several studies have shown consuming moderate amounts (25-30 grams) of protein at each meal is necessary to build muscle. This leads to less lean muscle mass being lost and a slower progression of sarcopenia.
The distribution of protein throughout the day determines how well your body can utilize the protein to help build lean muscle mass.
Breakfast is typically our smallest meal, with usually a small amount of protein; lunch is slightly more, but dinner tends to be when we consume the most protein. This uneven protein distribution during the day is not as effective towards protein building or synthesis needed to maintain muscle mass. It is more effective to distribute protein intake evenly at each meal
Consuming 25-30 grams of protein evenly at each meal is better for efficient muscle building and repair. Consuming more than 30 grams is more than what the body will use, with the excess amount being converted to fat or glucose and not towards muscle synthesis. You’re wasting excess protein if it’s more than 30 grams. Your body needs essential amino acids throughout the day for muscle building and not just coming in all at one time. Research has shown that muscle protein synthesis was about 25% greater when protein distribution was evenly distributed amongst each meal, than when protein distribution was skewed more toward the evening meal.
What does 25-30 grams of protein at each meal look like?
Here is an example of a one-day meal plan containing 25-30 grams of protein at each meal:
Breakfast – ½ cup cooked oatmeal with two tablespoons of peanut butter, ½ cup blueberries, one scrambled egg, and 1 cup of low-fat milk – 27 grams of protein
Lunch – 3 ounces salmon with a spinach salad and ½ cup black beans, 1 cup grapes, and 1 cup baby carrots – about 30 grams
Dinner – 4 ounces of beef steak, one baked potato, two tablespoons Greek yogurt, and 1 cup steamed broccoli – about 30 grams
It doesn’t take vast amounts of protein to reach 25-30 grams at each meal. However, it takes being more conscientious about planning meals to reach that 25-30 gram optimal amount.
To sum it up, sarcopenia doesn’t have to happen to you. Be proactive by:
- Incorporating exercise and weight lifting to build muscle mass.
- Consuming high-quality protein at each meal.
- Distributing protein intake to 25-30 grams per meal.
Starting today, outsmart sarcopenia with every weight you lift and bite of protein you eat. Your strong, toned muscles will thank you for that.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.