We came across a great breakdown of Luc van Loon’s research on maximizing muscle growth. As you probably know, maintaining our muscle mass as we grow older is one of the keys to maximizing our longevity. Dr. van Loon is world-renowned authority in the area of skeletal muscle metabolism, and his research has led to a better understanding of how muscle tissue is formed and lost.
Four key takeaways from his research:
1. You Are What You Just Ate
To understand how protein gets absorbed and used to create new muscle, van Loon’s research team developed a unique technique to introduce trackable amino acids into cows (they used a special isotope to tag the amino acids). This gave the team the ability to follow with amazing precision the progress of amino acids from milk and beef all the way to the formation of muscle in humans.
This technique revealed an astounding result: within just two hours, significant amounts of the protein ingested was already incorporated into muscles. After 5 hours, over 50% of the protein ingested had made it into circulation. This happened much quicker than previously thought. This might be an argument for spreading your protein intake evenly over the day.
2. Exercise before eating
In addition to being the raw material for muscles, amino acids are known to play a signaling role telling the brain to trigger the processes that lead to the production of new muscle fibers. This has been observed particularly in leucine, an essential amino acid that plays a versatile role in metabolism.
In their research, Dr. van Loon’s team discovered that this protein signalling activity is maximized when we eat right after we exercise. So eating a protein-rich meal after a workout is the ideal way to maximize muscle formation.
3. Long periods of Inactivity are a real muscle killer
Another interesting observation made by the research team is how muscle loss occurs. Rather than losing muscle mass at a slow, predictable rate, it is bouts of prolonged inactivity (i.e. after a fall or injury) that account for an important portion of the loss we experience as we age. This was observed in many older hospital patients that experienced accelerated loss of muscle mass due to bed rest. These rapid losses are then very difficult to reverse. Yet another powerful argument to get moving more on a daily basis!
4. We need more protein as we age.
Older muscles are less responsive to the protein signaling mentioned above. Van Loon and his team set out to determine the implications of this on the ideal intake of protein for older people. In a series of experiments, they determined that the optimal level of protein intake to maximize muscle generation in young men was 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight per meal. In comparison, older men needed closer to 0.90 grams of protein per pound of body weight, nearly twice as much. So, make sure that you are ingesting enough healthy proteins to build the muscle you need. The best way to know is to measure and track.