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How To Build Muscle Mass After 50: It's Never Too Late To Get Stronger

By Dr. Norbert Martin, DPT



Muscular older adult male

Do you find yourself a little less spry than you used to be? Maybe climbing stairs takes a little more effort, or you reach for help with heavier groceries. As we age, it's natural to experience a decline in muscle mass, a condition called sarcopenia. This can lead to decreased mobility, independence, and a higher risk of falls and injuries.


But here's the good news: building muscle mass after 50 is absolutely achievable, and it's more important than ever. By incorporating the right strategies, you can not only slow down muscle loss but actually build new muscle tissue well into your golden years. This translates into a stronger, more independent you, with a lower risk of chronic diseases and a boost in overall well-being.



The Science Behind Muscle Loss and the Power of Strength Training

The reason we lose muscle mass as we age is complex, but it partly boils down to a decrease in protein synthesis, the process by which our bodies build and repair muscle tissue. This decline is often linked to a drop in testosterone and estrogen levels.


However, research consistently shows that strength training, also known as resistance training, is the key to reversing this trend. Strength training involves working your muscles against some form of resistance, such as weights, resistance bands, or even your own body weight.


When you challenge your muscles with strength training, they experience microscopic tears. This triggers a cellular process where your body repairs and rebuilds the torn muscle fibers to become thicker and stronger.


Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that even in adults over 60 years old, 12 weeks of weight training increased muscle protein synthesis rates to levels similar to those of adults aged 20-30 years old.


So, the next time you hit the gym, embrace the weight section! Strength training is for everyone, and it can be incredibly rewarding at any age.



Building a Safe and Effective Program for Over 50s

Now that you know strength training's benefits, how do you create an effective program for your age group? First, consider any pre-existing conditions and consult your doctor or a physical therapist, especially if you have cardiovascular issues, uncontrolled diabetes, or severe arthritis or osteoporosis.


Next, focus on compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups:

  • Squats (bodyweight or holding weights)

  • Lunges (forward, reverse, lateral)

  • Rows (bent-over, seated cable rows)

  • Push-ups (against a wall, incline or knee push-ups)

  • Shoulder presses (overhead dumbbell or machine presses)


Start with just your bodyweight or light resistance bands/weights. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps until you feel in control of your form. Avoid compromising form to lift heavier - that's how injuries happen!


Finally, you need to incorporate rest and recovery. Your muscles need time to repair and rebuild after a workout. Aim for at least one day of rest between strength training sessions for a specific muscle group.














The Importance of Protein

Just like a car needs fuel to run, your body needs the right nutrients to build muscle. Here's where protein comes in. Protein is the building block of muscle tissue, and research consistently shows that consuming adequate protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, especially after exercise.


For optimal muscle protein synthesis, research recommends 1.6g protein per kg (0.73g per lb) of body weight per day for those over 50 and strength training.


There are many delicious ways to incorporate more protein into your diet. Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products are all excellent sources. Plant-based protein options include beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and nuts. Experiment and find protein sources you enjoy!



Beyond Protein: A Muscle Building Diet

While protein is key, your muscles need other nutrients too:


  • Complex carbs (whole grains, starchy veggies) for workout energy

  • Healthy fats (avocados, olive oil, nuts/seeds) to regulate hormones

  • Fruits and veggies for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants



Sleep, Stress, and Recovery: The Unsung Heroes of Muscle Building

Building muscle isn't just about what you do in the gym and what you put on your plate. Recovery also plays a vital role. Here are two often-overlooked factors that can significantly impact your muscle-building efforts:


1- Sleep: During sleep, your body releases hormones that promote muscle growth and repair. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.


2- Stress: Chronic stress can elevate cortisol levels in the body, which can actually break down muscle tissue. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy.



Building a Sustainable Muscle-Building Lifestyle After 50

Remember, building muscle after 50 isn't about a quick fix or a crash course. It's about creating a sustainable lifestyle that you can enjoy and maintain for years to come. Here are some additional tips to keep you motivated and on track:


Make it Fun! Exercise shouldn't feel like a chore. Explore different types of strength training to find what you enjoy. Maybe you'll love the challenge of weightlifting classes, the social aspect of a group fitness program, or the simplicity of bodyweight exercises you can do at home. The key is to find activities that fit your interests and keep you engaged.

Set SMART Goals: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Don't expect to see overnight results. Instead, set small, achievable goals that you can track and celebrate along the way. For example, aim to increase the weight you lift by 5 pounds by the end of the month, or add one more set of repetitions to your workout routine each week.


Find a Support System: Having a friend or family member to hold you accountable and motivate you can make a big difference. Partner up with someone who shares your fitness goals or join a group fitness class to create a sense of community. Surrounding yourself with positive influences can be a powerful motivator.


Listen to Your Body: This is crucial. Don't push yourself through pain. If you experience any discomfort, take a break or adjust your workout routine. Pushing through pain can lead to injury, which will derail your progress.


Make it a Family Affair: Get your loved ones involved! Encourage them to join you for walks, bike rides, or even simple bodyweight exercises at home. Creating a healthy lifestyle together can be fun and rewarding for everyone. It can also inspire healthy habits in future generations.


Lastly, consider working with a personal trainer, at least initially. They can ensure your form is safe, create a balanced routine, and keep you motivated. Group fitness can also provide guidance plus social support.



Final Thoughts

Building muscle after 50 is an empowering journey. It's about taking control of your health, reclaiming your strength, and feeling your best. By incorporating these tips and strategies into your routine, you can achieve amazing results and experience the transformative power of strength training. Remember, it's never too late to get stronger and feel young again!


Ready to take the next step? Consider subscribing to our newsletter for these additional resources:

  • Sample strength training routines specifically designed for mature adults

  • Delicious and nutritious meal plans to fuel your muscle-building journey

  • Information on proper exercise form to avoid injury

  • Tips for managing stress and improving sleep quality


You've got this! With commitment, your muscular future is bright.



Reference:

Yarasheski KE, Zachwieja JJ, Bier DM. Acute effects of resistance exercise on muscle protein synthesis rate in young and elderly men and women. Am J Physiol. 1993 Aug;265(2 Pt 1):E210-4. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.1993.265.2.E210. Erratum in: Am J Physiol 1993 Oct;265(4 Pt 1):followi. Erratum in: Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 1993 Oct 1;265(1):1a. PMID: 8368290.


Putra C, Konow N, Gage M, York CG, Mangano KM. Protein Source and Muscle Health in Older Adults: A Literature Review. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 26;13(3):743. doi: 10.3390/nu13030743. PMID: 33652669; PMCID: PMC7996767.


Agostini D, Gervasi M, Ferrini F, Bartolacci A, Stranieri A, Piccoli G, Barbieri E, Sestili P, Patti A, Stocchi V, Donati Zeppa S. An Integrated Approach to Skeletal Muscle Health in Aging. Nutrients. 2023 Apr 7;15(8):1802. doi: 10.3390/nu15081802. PMID: 37111021; PMCID: PMC10141535.


Edmund Battey et al, Muscle fibre size and myonuclear positioning in trained and aged humans, Experimental Physiology (2024). DOI: 10.1113/EP091567


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