Monthly Archives: July 2014

45 or Older, Your Muscles Are Shrinking

Everyone loses 1% of their muscle mass every year starting at age 45. This is a big deal because our metabolism as well as the utilization of glucose for energy largely takes place in our muscles.  But we have the ability to stop the natural progression of muscle wasting called sarcopenia.  The anecdote?  Strength training and adequate protein intake as discussed in the previous blog.

Metabolism and Muscle Mass

Many people blame their excess weight on having a slow metabolism.  But in reality obesity is rarely due to a metabolic disorder like hypothyroidism.  Excess weight is due to how much we eat, what we eat and how much we exercise.  There are other factors that can impact one’s metabolism like body size, sex and age.  In general, people who are larger, have more muscle mass, are male and younger than 45 will have a higher metabolism.  Basal metabolic rate is the amount of calories needed to carry out the normal functions of the body and accounts for about 60-75 percent of the calories you burn each day.  Two other factors that also effect metabolism are thermogenesis or food processing, and physical activity. Thermogenesis is defined as the amount of energy used in the digestion, absorption and distribution of food consumed and accounts for about 10 percent of the calories used in a day. It is believed that diet induced thermogenesis can play a part in obesity.  They conclude that protein plays a big part in raising thermogenesis of food.  There is also some evidence that eating “whole” foods like whole grain breads and less processed food like cheddar cheese versus processed cheese product also increase thermogenesis.  In one study a diet higher in protein and carbs as opposed to one high in fat and carbs lead to higher thermogenesis as well as a longer feeling of satiety.  There has also been some evidence that the regular ingestion of chili or the capsaicin in it has been linked to increased thermogenesis.  I guess that is a good reason to eat a lot of chili soup and salsa!  In general, the more difficult it is to process the foods we eat, the more calories we burn in the process of digesting them.  Dietary fat is very easy to process, while protein is not.

muscle mass

That’s some muscle mass!

Physical activity also plays a role in our metabolism.  We also know that just doing aerobic exercise will benefit our heart and lungs  but will do little to maintain muscle mass.  Research at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston have repeatedly shown the benefit of strength training for reversing the effects of sarcopenia.  For adults 45 or older, adding strength training is nonnegotiable if you want to prevent sarcopenia.  Furthermore, muscle mass effects metabolism.  For those over 45, avoiding strength training will lead to a slowing of metabolism, a drop in caloric needs, and most likely weight gain.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends each week 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (like a brisk walk) and 2 strengthening sessions involving all major muscle groups – legs, arms, chest, shoulders, abdomen, hip and back.  If vigorous exercise is done then the time can be decreased to 75 minutes a week of the aerobic, along with the same strengthening sessions.  Evidence also supports that the aerobic portion can be broken up into 10 minute sessions – you will get the same cardio benefit versus doing it all at once.

Insulin Resistance and Muscle Mass

If you have a parent with type 2 diabetes then you have a 40% chance of developing it as well. Type 2 diabetes starts with the inability of the body to effectively recognize and utilize insulin.  Insulin is the hormone that helps glucose get into the cells for energy.  If the cells do not get adequate glucose, that person will not only feel tired but will increase the liklihood of developing diabetes.  There is a very effective solution to reduce insulin resistance.  You guessed!  Strength training.  Insulin resistance starts in the muscles, liver and fat cells.  When you do strenghthening exercises you are moving those muscles and improving the muscles ability to recognize insulin, not just while exercising but for the next 24 hours.  And you are increasing your muscle mass.  Pretty powerful and better than taking a medication for it.

Your Steps to Protect Your Muscle Mass

1.  To preserve muscle mass make sure you are getting enough protein.  If you don’t eat an adequate amount of protein your body will break down it’s own muscle mass to get the amino acids it needs.  If you are over 45 then make sure you are getting about 30 grams of protein each meal.  As mentioned in the previous post your needs go up with age as much as 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight.  You might want to think about adding a protein powder shake as one of your meals. Next blog will discuss testing done by Consumer Lab on protein powders. If your are eatting 4 ounces of lean meat for your dinner then you are getting enough protein. Other good sources of protein include fish, fat-free or reduced fat plain Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, eggs and egg whites, tofu, edamame and even quinoa. 2.  Schedule a regular time on your calendar to get regular, moderate intensity exercise.  Perhaps take the bus to work, get off the bus early and walk the last mile to work or park a mile away from work and walk.  There are some wonderful walking DVD’s by Leslie Sansone, that you can also purchase on 3. Twice a week take 20 minutes to do strengthening exercises.  Here is a good from the CDC link if you are new to doing strengthening.  There are tablet apps like the 7 minute workout that include a nice regimen that works all the muscle groups.  Or think about joining Planet Fitness where the memberships are cheap and you can work with a trainer twice a week to get your started on the machines and weights.  If you are new to doing strengthening and reluctant to do it then look for a Strong Living Program in your area.  This is a group exercise program designed by Tufts University that has well researched success. Much of what I have said here applies to those who are 45 or older.  But as we all know, habits are much easier to start the younger you are.  Why not take this information and jump-start your health by doing these suggestions now.  Not only will it help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, but it will relieve stress, improve your health numbers, help you to sleep better and make you feel mahh-velous!  Bet you can’t find that in any pill!

Protein = Muscle Power + Healthy Weight

So what’s the scoop on protein?  You go to the grocery store and you see labels bragging about being “a good source of protein” or how it “satisfies hunger longer.”  In the past, eating low-fat foods was the best way to lose weight. Then came the Adkin’s diet that was all about eating an ultra low carbohydrate diet in order to go into ketosis and force the fat to melt away.  Now the focus is on protein and making sure you are getting enough of it – whatever enough is. Why is protein so important and how much is enough?

Protein Plays A Big Role In Our Body

Protein on a food label

You’ll find protein listed last on every food label

Protein is a food nutrient used to build and repair every cell in our body and to make hormones, enzymes and hemoglobin.  One of the biggest roles protein has as we age is to build and maintain our muscles.  This is important because as we age, we lose muscle mass.  According to Nathan LeBrasseur, a researcher at the Muscle Performance and Physical Functions Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in a June 23, 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, most people will lose about 30% of their muscle mass over their lifetime due to inactivity and inadequate nutrition.  And it is our muscles that determine our metabolism – how many calories we burn at rest.  When muscle mass deteriorates, not only do we get weaker which can lead to falls, but we burn fewer calories at rest as well.  Muscle loss usually leads to weight gain.  Most people do not decrease their caloric intake as they age to compensate for the drop in metabolism, so over time their weight gradually increases putting even more strain on the body and creating more difficulty with mobility.

How Much Protein Do We Need?

The USDA recommends 0.8 grams per kilogram of protein per day, but there has been a growing body of evidence to support consuming a larger amount as one ages.  In order to slow down sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle mass, the Society on Sarcopenia, Cachexia and Wasting Disorders recommends in a 2010 article that protein intake for the over 50 age group be as high as 1-1.5 grams per kilogram per day, divided over all three meals.  To convert pounds into kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.  For example a 200 pound individual weighs 91 kg.  For someone less than 50, the recommended protein intake would be about 72 grams per day.  For someone over 50, the recommendation would be 91-140 grams of protein per day.  Furthermore, the society recommends 20-30 minutes of strengthening and aerobic exercise three times a week to prevent sarcopenia.  Just increasing protein intake alone without exercise will only slow down the destruction of muscle mass but will not prevent sarcopenia.  It is also advised that Vitamin D levels be in adequate range and may require supplementation.  As we age Vitamin D levels decline and low levels are associated with low muscle strength as well as other chronic diseases.

As we age, kidney function can decline, particularly if someone has diabetes or hypertension.  If someone has any of these conditions or has been told that they have kidney disease, then before you increase your protein intake discuss your kidney health with your doctor.  If you have any kidney disease, protein intake should be determined by your provider and a registered dietitian who can make other recommendations to preserve kidney function.  You should ask your healthcare provider about your kidney function and learn about your GFR or glumerular filtration rate.

Getting Enough Protein

As our bodies age, how we utilize the amino acids from the protein we consume also changes.  When protein is eaten, it is broken down in the gastrointestinal tract into amino acids which are then absorbed in the blood stream.  It’s the rapid change in concentration of amino acids in the blood stream that then triggers a chain of metabolic reactions that stimulate the formation of new protein.  However, according to research done at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston as well as at Arizona State University and mentioned in the Staying Strong article in the April 2011 Nutrition Action Healthletter, older adults need a larger amount of amino acids to stimulate protein synthesis.  According to Douglas Paddon-Jones, a researcher at University of Texas, giving 30 grams of protein to a young or older adult will stimulate the same kind of protein synthesis.  Paddon-Jones states that if you give only 15 grams of protein to each age group, the younger age group will synthesize about half the protein, while the older age group will not synthesize any or a very minimal amount.  The older adult needs to get about 30 grams of protein in each meal to stimulate protein synthesis and preserve muscle mass.  This is why cereal for breakfast is not as good for the older adult as a large egg white omelet, with a side of lean Canadian bacon and a piece of whole grain toast.  Most cereals only have about 5-7 grams of protein in a serving size and a cup of milk has 8 grams of protein.  If someone were to boost the serving size in order to get the recommended protein they would be greatly increasing the carbohydrates and calories that can lead to weight gain and not muscle mass protection.

Types of Protein

Protein is made up of amino acids – 9 of them are “essential”, meaning we must consume them because our bodies can not make them like the other amino acids.  Amino acids are the building blocks for repairing our body.  Some proteins are considered complete, meaning they have all 9 of the essential amino acids, and some are incomplete meaning that they lack some of the essential amino acids.  Complete protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy – but also include soybeans and quinoa as well.  Choose lean sources like poultry, fish and plant-based or very lean beef and reduced fat dairy since animal proteins can be high in saturated fat.  And if it’s in your budget, buy organic where the type of fat is higher in heart healthy omega 3’s.  Incomplete sources are those from plants like beans, grains and legumes.   A vegetarian diet can get all the essential amino acids needed as long as a variety of plant foods is consumed.  Of all the 20 amino acids, leucine is the amino acid that does the majority of protein synthesis and is a good one to focus on.  It is found in animal proteins but in the article, Staying Strong from the April 2011 issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter, there is a list of good food sources of leucine.

How Much Protein Is In My Food?

Become aware of the protein in your foods.  Three ounces of cooked chicken breast has about 26 grams of protein.  Three ounces of cooked salmon has 21 grams.  A cup of plain fat-free Greek yogurt has 23 grams of protein.  A large egg has 7 grams of protein and a cup of edamame has 14 grams.  But remember that you don’t have to get all your protein from animal based foods.  A good breakfast for someone under 50 might be a cup of plain fat-free Greek yogurt mixed with some berries and topped with a couple of tablespoons of walnuts.  A good breakfast for someone over 50, particularly if they are getting daily aerobic exercise combined with some strengthening exercises, might include my smoothie recipe(email me for my recipe) along with a good source of protein powder.  Look for my upcoming article on good sources of protein powders.  In the meanwhile, put away the cereal unless you are using a small amount as a topping on your Greek yogurt or smoothie and consider a large egg white and veggie omelet for breakfast, or heck, even some of that leftover chicken from dinner last night!