Muscle definition makes you look fantastic, and muscle mass is also essential for long term health. Muscle is made of protein and proteins are made from specific combinations of amino acids, just like words are specific combinations of letters. Muscles store amino acids like we store money in the bank. The body uses these amino acids to fight infections, heal and repair, plus muscle burns calories, even when resting, and thus play a key role in making you trim and fit. It shouldn’t surprise you that your muscle mass is one of the best health predictors of living independently into your 80s and 90s in good health.
Keep in mind that 10% of your muscle mass breaks down and rebuilds every day. To build muscle mass, you need more building than breaking down. After age 30-40, most people lose 1% of their muscle and replace it with 1% more fat every year; in essence they are shifting from free range lean to prime cut.
Eating protein also makes you feel full and satisfied, so one strategy to eating less without being hungry means eating more protein.
Unlike fat, muscles burn calories even when at rest. Increase your muscle mass by one pound and maintain it for one year, and you burn an extra 40 kcalories every day. At this rate, you burn an extra 14,600 kcalories yearly and if everything else stays the same, you would lose 4.2 pounds of fat—roughly the size of a football.
How to Build Muscles?
- Get the right amount and the right type of amino acids.
- Stress your muscles to grow, otherwise you convert protein intake into fat.
- Limit inflammation, as inflammation breaks down muscle tissue.
- Balance your hormones to ensure muscle growth.
Plus there are some finer take home points that I’ll share to optimize your success. Tips that clarify what type of amino acids work best, when to ingest amino acids in relation to exercise, and what type of exercise to do?
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Scientists have studied how much protein muscles can absorb with different forms of activity. Keep in mind 2.2 pounds = 1 kilogram (kg)
- The average person who is active for 30 minutes 3-4 days per week needs 0.8 grams of protein / kg body weight / day; or ~0.37 grams of protein per lb of body weight /day
- If you exercise 5-10 hrs/wk you need 1.0 gm/kg body weight/day; or 0.45 gm protein /lb body weight /day
- Athlete (10-20 hrs/wk intense activity)
– Endurance training = 1.2 gm/kg/day
– Strength training = 1.8 gm/kg/day
– 3/day football training = 2.0 gm/kg/day
Let’s try a couple examples. John exercise 8 hours per week and weighs 154 pounds (70 kg), so John’s muscles need about 1 gram/kg/day of protein, which is 70 grams. Jill is a cross country runner, exercising 12 hours per week and she weighs 122 pounds. At 55.5 kg x 1.2 gm of protein per kg per day, she needs 66.5 grams of protein daily.
What Type of Amino Acids Do You Need to Build Muscle?
Muscle need branched chain amino acids plus glutamine for optimal growth. Both whey and soy protein are rich in branched chain amino acids, making them popular for building muscle mass. Glutamine is more expensive to add, so many supplements don’t provide it.
When to Add Protein with Exercise?
Before a workout, you need a healthy mix of proteins and carbs, plus a little fat. The carbs give you energy for the workout, plus carbs cause insulin levels to rise and an appropriate insulin surge helps to build muscle as well.
The key take home point is that on strength training days (preferably 2-3 days per week) when you stress your muscles to exhaustion, drinking 15-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your work out decreases muscle breakdown and accelerates muscle building.
If you have more than 30 grams of protein after a workout (for most people 20 is the maximum they can use), you convert the extra protein into fat. I have searched all over for an excellent quality protein powder. My favorite to date is from Xymogen and is called fitfood LITE whey protein. It tastes great, has 190 calories, comes with 7 grams of healthy fiber, and 21 grams of New Zealand whey protein, and this includes nearly 4 grams of glutamine and 4 grams of branched chain amino acids.
(Insert fit food Lite protein photos, vanilla, chocolate, berry, banana)
Strength Training: The Secret to Shaping Up
We all want to feel good in our clothes and look great, and strength training can slim you down and bring back the muscle tone of younger years. But if you eat protein and don’t stress your muscles you just turn the protein calories into fat.
For details on my Age Busting Fitness Program, please read Chapter Six in Ten Years Younger, but in brief, you need to life a weight no more than 12-15 times before your muscles are exhausted to add enough stress for them to build—lifting a weight 50 times helps to tone muscles, but doesn’t stress them to the point they are programmed to grow. If you can’t lift a weight at least 8-10 times, then the chance for injury is too high, so somewhere between 8-15 lifts seems ideal with 2-3 sets of those motions. You can use weights, weight machines, elastic bands, or even your furniture with the key being pushing your muscles with smooth steady full motions.
If you have never done strength training, then likely you would benefit greatly from working with a trainer, even if it is for only 2-4 sessions to get started. Or, for help getting started, set up a coaching session with my Ten Years Younger Coaching Team.
Limit inflammation, as inflammation breaks down muscle tissue.
When you are inflamed, you tend to lose muscle and grow fat. A simple blood test to measure inflammation levels is a blood test called high sensitivity C Reactive Protein (hs-CRP or cardio-CRP). A good hs-CRP level is <0.5, normal is <1, elevated is 1-3, and > 3 is high and consider high risk for a cardiovascular event.
What are steps to lower hs-CRP levels and inflammation?
- Avoid refined carbs (sugar, sweets, products made from flour, corn syrup), especially important if you have elevated blood sugar levels.
- Avoid bad fats (saturated fats from fatty meats and all but non-fat dairy, plus trans or hydrogenated fats).
- Work out 5-6 days per week for 30-60 minutes.
- Enjoy 1-2 grams of fish oil daily for cold water small mouth fish or a supplement.
- Eat more fruits and leafy vegetables.
- Keep your body fat below 22% (~ BMI under 22) as fat cells release compounds that increase inflammation.
Balance your hormones to ensure muscle growth.
Cortisol is a hormone that breaks down muscle, releasing amino acids into your blood stream for repair and fuel. Testosterone is a hormone that helps you to build muscle during strength training exercise.
Several factors cause cortisol levels to be high:
- Chronic unmanaged stress (for More on managing your stress…)
- Chronic lack of sleep
- Excessive caffeine intake
- High blood sugar levels
Several factors cause testosterone levels to be low:
- Surgery that removes the ovaries in women (commonly causes a significant abnormal drop in testosterone)
- Andropause (testosterone deficiency) in men
- Occasionally menopause in women
- Obesity (fat cells actually convert testosterone into estrogen, which is one of the reasons men tend to grow breast tissue when they are overweight)
If you suspect either high cortisol or low testosterone levels, then talk to your medical provider about testing.