Outsmarting sarcopenia as you age

 Photo of Mature man suffering from wrist pain at home while sitting on sofa during the day. Clenched painful hands

Outsmarting sarcopenia as you age

Every single one of us will develop a condition as we age unless we are proactive about reducing our risk of it.  This condition is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the involuntary, gradual loss of muscle mass and strength as we get older affecting 30% of people over the age of 60 and 50% of people age 80 on up. It does not distinguish between gender, ethnicity or where we live.  Once loss of muscle mass occurs we are more likely to have the following:

·      Increased risk of falls and fractures

·      Frailty

·      Difficulty with walking

·      Decrease in stamina

·      Decrease in muscle strength

·      Weak bones – osteoporosis

·      Loss of physical function and independence

Sarcopenia can begin as early as age 30 gradually reducing 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.

The key to is to preserve as much muscle mass as possible while aging.  The earlier you start, the more likely you can maintain adequate muscle mass to be able to enjoy an active lifestyle well into old age.

Two ways to be proactive against sarcopenia

1.     Weight training   

Lifting weights two to three times a week is very effective in maintaining muscle tissue and improves bone health, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. You absolutely do not need to invest in expensive weight lifting equipment or join a gym, unless you want to. Simply using dumbbells or hand weights easily found at a sporting goods store or making your own weights of lifting water bottles or even canned goods, are effective means of preserving muscle mass.  

2.     Adequate protein

Most people in the United States are not protein deficient but there are two reasons why a high percentage of people develop sarcopenia.  One is protein quality and the second is protein distribution.

·      Protein Quality

Protein comes from 2 sources – animal (beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy foods) and plants (grains, beans, nuts, seeds and vegetables).

There are 20 different amino acids which are the building blocks of protein.  Out of this 20, nine of them cannot be made by the body and therefore are called “essential amino acids” meaning we can only get them from food sources. The other 11 amino acids our body can make.  The essential amino acids help stimulate and support muscle protein synthesis.

Animal sources of protein, along with soybeans, provide all of the nine essential amino acids and are referred to as a complete protein.  Plant sources of protein do not contain all nine essential amino acids and are referred to as incomplete protein.  However, plant sources of protein can be combined with one another to form a more complete protein such as combining rice and beans. 

·      Protein Distribution 

Several studies have shown consuming moderate amounts (25-30 grams) of protein at each meal are 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 is able to 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 majority of protein.  This uneven distribution of protein 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.  Essentially, you’re wasting excess protein at a meal if it’s more than 30 grams.  Your body needs available essential amino acids throughout the day for muscle building and not just coming in all at one time.  Research has shown that when protein distribution is evenly distributed amongst each meal, muscle protein synthesis was about 25% greater 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 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, ½ cup blueberries, 1 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, 1 baked potato, 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt and 1 cup steamed broccoli – about 30 grams

It doesn’t take huge amounts of protein to reach 25-30 grams at each meal.  It just 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.