What is your strategy for preserving muscle mass as you get older? Age-related muscle loss, (officially known as sarcopenia), is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% of your muscle mass per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. For women, the loss of muscle mass is slightly lower but still quite significant.
The good news is that you can slow and even reverse this process, combining resistance training with protein supplementation. We found some good evidence for this in this study conducted by a team at the Department of Human Movement Studies at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. The research was led by Dr. Luc van Loon, one of the world’s experts in understanding the intricacies of how we build and lose muscle as we age. Dr van Loon has spent many years understanding sarcopenia and the measures that can be used to reverse it
In this paper, Dr. van Loon and his team set out to assess the impact of protein supplementation on muscle mass, strength, and physical performance during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in a group of 62 frail elderly men and women. This group participated in a progressive exercise training program consisting of 2 sessions per week for 24 weeks. The group was split into two for control. The first supplemented twice daily with a total of 30g of protein. The second group took a placebo. Lean body mass, strength, and physical performance were assessed prior to the study, and after 12 and 24 weeks of intervention
The result was positive in two senses.
- Strength and physical performance improved significantly in both groups. So no matter what, resistance training should be part of your longevity protocol.
- The group supplementing with protein added 3.3 lbs of muscle mass on average whereas the placebo group did not gain any muscle. This strongly suggests adopting a protein supplementation strategy.
Given these results, what is the optimal amount of protein you should take on a daily basis? We found that the answer is not so simple. On one hand, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. On the other, there has been debate among nutrition experts that this amount is too low. In any event, we should keep in mind that RDA recommendations are based on an average for the general population Given that context is important we set out to find some more specific evidence.
The search led us to a study conducted by a team at the school of Kinesiology and & Physical Education at the University of Toronto. The objective was to determine the protein intake required to maximize the increase in muscle mass in older men (participants were ~71 years old). To use a benchmark, they compared it to the amount required by younger men (participants were ~22 years old). The research found that for younger men muscle creation peaked with the ingestion of 0.33g of protein per pound of body weight per day (i.e. 57gms per day for a 175lb person). The older group reached the peak of muscle creation at 0.54gms of protein per pound of body weight (i.e. 95gms for a 175lb person). In other words, we require about 60% more protein intake to maximize muscle gain than we needed when we were younger.
We find this data to be pretty compelling. While many of us associate protein supplements as a thing for muscle heads and gym rats, we are increasingly persuaded to include such a product in our longevity protocol. Our next step will be to investigate the universe of options available in the market to surface some good choices to experiment with. Stay tuned.