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5 Eating Habits to Restore Muscle Mass as You Age

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Have you flexed your biceps in the mirror lately? Well, there are more important reasons beyond looking good in a tee and avoiding those flabby bat wings to protect your muscles as you age. Studies show that the loss of this metabolically active muscle tissue over decades is associated with chronic health conditions such as insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease, in addition to frailty, fatigue and falls. The scientific term for age-related loss of skeletal muscle and strength is sarcopenia; It usually starts in the 40s.

Fortunately, sarcopenia can be prevented or even reversed in the elderly and middle-aged people who are just beginning to notice the loss of muscle mass. Strength training is a big part of the solution, of course, but pumping iron without the right fuel won’t build muscle. Adopting certain basic eating habits will speed up your workouts and help your resistance training build new muscles as you age.

According to certified strength and conditioning specialist and sports chiropractor Matt Tanneberg, CSCSGaining muscle through exercise requires three main habits: consuming enough calories, consuming enough quality protein, and getting these nutrients throughout the day, especially before and after exercise.

“Muscle growth is directly linked to nutrition and is negatively affected when your diet doesn’t support your body properly,” Tanneberg said. Eat This, Not That!

To rebuild muscles effectively, try doing another repetition of the following eating habits in your strength training routine.


People trying to shape often restrict the number of calories they eat. However, this can backfire if you want to add muscle as you need fuel to power up resistance exercise and stimulate muscle growth. Do not starve or briefly replace any of the three macronutrients.

“If you want to gain muscle weight, it’s important to have enough calories in your diet and actually a calorie surplus,” she says. Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSDHe is a member of our Board of Medical Specialists, who also serves as a sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys.

While many are under the impression that protein alone is the key to building muscle, experts say a well-balanced meal is actually a safer recipe for success and recommend diversifying your diet.

“While protein is the fuel for muscles, you need to eat a balanced diet with enough carbohydrates and fat to optimize your diet for muscle growth,” says Tanneberg.

man cooking bacon and eggs

“Most people eat most of their protein at dinner, but research shows it’s easier to build muscle tissue when protein intake is spread out throughout the day,” he says. Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDNan award-winning nutrition communicator, recipe developer, author and co-author Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Hormones, Health and Happiness.

Ward recommends getting between 1.2–1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. So for a person weighing 160 pounds, that’s roughly 88-117 grams of protein.

mature old man eats salad

“Lean animal foods such as eggs, lean beef, poultry, and seafood, as well as low-fat dairy products such as cottage cheese, milk, and Greek yogurt are excellent sources of complete protein. [This] That means they contain all the amino acids the body needs to build muscle,” says Ward. “Also, animal foods are rich in the amino acid leucine, which triggers muscle cell production.”

Plants also contain proteins used to build muscle. Soy foods, such as tofu, edamame, and unsweetened soy milk, are foods that provide complete protein, like animal foods. Other plant foods that contain protein are beans such as chickpeas and black beans, quinoa, lentils, peanuts, almonds, pistachios and walnuts.

RELATED: The Best High-Protein Foods You Can Eat After 50

happy sandwich

Carbs like whole grains and legumes, as well as some dairy products, fruits and vegetables are important for muscle growth. As the body’s preferred source of energy, carbohydrates provide a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. What’s more, carbohydrates reclaim protein.

“When you restrict carbohydrates from your diet, you deplete your body’s glycogen, or stored sugars, for energy,” she explains. Johna Burdeos, RD. “Carb restriction causes muscle loss. Lack of carbs for energy means your body has to start breaking down its own muscle for energy.”

pre workout snack

Nutrient timing plays an important role in optimizing your efforts to regain muscle.

“You should always have a pre-workout snack or meal about an hour before you start resistance training. It should contain adequate amounts of carbohydrates, which are your body’s main source of energy,” says Tanneberg. “Post-workout is when you need to go more protein-heavy to replenish recovery muscles.”

“Ideally, you have a whey protein shake or equivalent protein source within 15-30 minutes of your workout,” Tanneberg continues. “Chocolate milk is great post-workout because it has the perfect balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein for muscle recovery.”