From the time you are born to around the time you turn 30, your muscles grow larger and stronger. But at some point in your 30s, you begin to lose muscle mass and function, a condition known as age-related sarcopenia or sarcopenia with aging. People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30. Even if you are active, you will still experience some muscle loss. As we age, the natural tendency even with proper nutrition and exercise is to lose muscle over time. If this did not happen, our life spans would be far longer than the present average. Maintaining homeostasis is literally a matter of life and death.
Although there is no generally accepted test or specific level of muscle mass for sarcopenia diagnosis, any loss of muscle mass is of consequence, because loss of muscle means loss of strength and mobility. Sarcopenia typically accelerates around age 75 — although it may happen in people age 65 or 80 — and is a factor in the occurrence of frailty and the likelihood of falls and fractures in older adults.
Symptoms of muscle loss include musculoskeletal weakness and loss of stamina, which can interfere with physical activity. Reduced physical activity, in turn, further reduces muscle mass. Muscle loss can cause a host of problems as you age from osteoporosis to problems with managing blood sugar. This is not to mention the loss of mobility and strength to do everyday tasks and enjoy physical activities like walking, sporting activities, dancing, ect.
Although sarcopenia is mostly seen in people who are inactive, the fact that it also occurs in people who stay physically active throughout life suggests there are other factors involved in the development of sarcopenia.
Researchers believe the following factors play a role:
- Age-related reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to initiate movement
- A decrease in the concentrations of some hormones, including growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor
- A decrease in the body’s ability to synthesize protein
- Inadequate intake of calories and/or protein to sustain muscle mass
Eating to maintain muscle requires both sufficient calories to equal your daily energy expenditure as well as:
- sufficient quality proteins
- good fats
- quality carbohydrate sources to supply your muscles with what they need.
Blood type and metabolic type should also be taken into consideration, because each individual reacts differently to various types of foods. It is very important that the foods you eat allow you to maintain a stable blood sugar level. This is critical because significant drops in blood sugar due to a glycemic response to a food can trigger a rise in cortisol. Remember that cortisol breaks down muscle so you will want to keep cortisol levels under control as much as possible to avoid sarcopenia. Eating a low glycemic diet will help in this regard, as the foods you will be eating will not raise blood sugar very rapidly, and you will avoid the roller coaster effect on your blood sugar levels that can cause muscle loss.
Certain nutritional supplements such as vitamin-d , acetyl-l-carnitine, the amino acid glutamine, fish oil, and creatine can have positive benefits for preventing muscle loss and maintaining homeostasis. Protein supplements can also be of value in preventing muscle loss, however, you should start with a sound diet and add supplements as needed.
Stress can also raise cortisol and set the stage for sarcopenia to occur. The stress reduction techniques mentioned on this site are a good starting point for managing stress. In particular the Doyletic speed trace is particularly valuable for this purpose.
The best exercise for preventing sarcopenia is strength training, which is also called resistance or weight training. This is because it taxes your muscles in an intense manner and forces them to get stronger and larger over time. Resistance training has been reported to positively influence the neuromuscular system, hormone concentrations, and protein synthesis rate. Research has shown that a program of progressive resistance training exercises can increase protein synthesis rates in older adults in as little as two weeks. Long duration cardio exercise is not recommended as it can actually contribute to muscle loss if overdone.