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How to Build Muscle at Any Age, Including After 40
By Ethan Boldt
November 5, 2023
As we naturally age, many of us focus on the scale (our weight) and may want to lose fat that’s accumulated through diet and exercise. What rarely gets discussed is muscle, a key player in the normal aging process — in how we look, feel and move.
Normal age-related muscle loss surprisingly can begin as early as age 30. It’s considered a natural, normal part of aging, and it can involve not just some loss of muscle mass but also some strength and function.
After age 30, some studies show that muscle mass can decrease between 3 and 8 percent per decade, with people often losing 4 to 6 pounds of muscle per decade. This decline can speed up after age 60.
However, the great news is that you don’t need to simply submit to this normal muscle decline. Instead, by learning how to strength train, and do so more often, you can help build lean muscle up into your older age as long as you also eat appropriately. Let’s learn more.
Research shows that older adults can not only halt age-related muscle loss but build new muscle, particularly if they partake in resistance exercise. Whether lifting weights, using your bodyweight or even using resistance bands, muscle needs to be stretched with some resistance (such as a weight load) in order to create microscopic muscle tears and trigger the body’s natural muscle-building response — and allow the muscle to heal and build.
Over time and repetition, such as 30 to 45 minute sessions several times a week, your muscle fibers can grow in size, strength and function. Research also indicates that the more intense one’s strength training is, the more impressive the outcomes in terms of muscle built as well as strength output.
Importantly, building muscle and improved function and balance helps maintain one’s quality of life, including strength, balance and more.
Muscles play a much more important role in the human body than what most of us may think. Here are just some of the benefits:
Increased strength and power: Performing physical tasks like lifting, pulling, pushing and carrying becomes easier when your muscles can generate more force.
Improved athletic performance: Sports performance will also usually improve with better strength, power and function.
Better stability and balance: For proper posture and stability, strong core muscles as well as leg strength are needed.
Boosts the metabolism: Studies show that a strength training session can affect your metabolic rate for the next 48 hours, compared to just two hours for aerobic exercise. Muscles, by definition, are metabolically active tissue. The more you have of it, the more calories you burn at rest.
Promotes bone health: Strength training stimulates bone growth and density, which can assist in helping to keep bones strong as one ages.
Better joint support: Contrary to the myth that strength training can be hard on your joints, it’s just the opposite. Creating stronger muscles with resistance training both supports and stabilizes joints.
Assists cardiovascular health: Weight training can help support normal blood pressure levels, heart health and circulation.
Support healthy blood sugar levels (already in the normal range): More muscle tissue can help promote normal, healthy blood sugar by using glucose for energy.
Improved physique: Over time with regular strength training, the body can become more muscle-toned and defined. This may boost self-esteem.
Here are some of the best foods to include in a muscle-building program. As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation and/or muscle-building or other exercise.
What to eat after a workout? Eating good quality protein before and after a workout can help with muscle building and recovery.
High-protein foods give your body the nutrients it needs for muscle and tissue recovery. Some of the best foods for muscle recovery include grass-fed beef, organic chicken, lentils, beans, nuts and eggs.
Your body needs to restore glycogen to maintain healthy energy levels after exercising. Glycogen is a readily available source of glucose and energy for tissues, and it helps to refuel the body and aid muscle recovery.
The best glycogen foods that should be consumed before and after a workout include starchy carbohydrates (like sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash), whole grains, legumes, beans and organic dairy.
Healthy fat foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids support a healthy response to inflammation and may benefit muscle recovery. Some great options include wild-caught salmon, walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.
Eating nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory foods can support healthy muscle repair and growth. Some of the best options are green leafy vegetables, broccoli, ginger, turmeric, berries and coconut oil.
Don’t eat processed or packaged foods that are often made with trans fat and other inflammatory ingredients.
Reduce your sugar intake, sticking to natural forms of sugar from fruits and vegetables instead. Excessive sugar can increase free radical damage from hard workouts, leading to fatigue.
These provide only empty calories and can remove critical nutrients from your body.
Found in vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil and canola oil, hydrogenated oils cause inflammation, which slows recovery of muscles.
These components work together to support your muscles and joints, which is why taking Bone Broth Protein after a workout can help “feed” your connective tissues and muscles, helping to support healthy muscle recovery.
Muscles need collagen and protein after exercise for recovery and growth, which is why collagen protein aids muscle recovery and helps reduce stiffness.
Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein features 10 types of collagen that supply amino acids including proline, glycine and arginine that support healthy connective tissues in the joints and ligaments.
Plant-based protein powders, like the Plant Protein+ made with organic seeds and botanicals, are a great option for consuming the amino acids needed for muscle recovery and performance.
Omega-3 fatty acids promote a healthy response to inflammation and can generally help support healthy joints and muscles, contributing to muscle comfort after exercise.
Rather than plunging straight into a vigorous strength workout, ease into it, especially if you’ve been relatively sedentary. Begin, for example, simply getting in and out of a chair. Go for daily walks.
Once you are ready for a strength routine, aim for 30-minute workouts three times a week at first and use good exercise form, perhaps with the aid of a personal trainer to get you started.
The amount and specific type of strength training you should do depends on your goals, but a general recommendation (such as from the American College of Sports Medicine) is to do at least 2–3 sessions of resistance training per week, in addition to some metabolic/aerobic training. Four to five days per week may be a better goal for more advanced lifters.
Either way, try to target most of your major muscle groups, in particular your chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, core, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves. At a gym, you can use machines to target most of these muscles. At home, you can only reasonably target some of these muscles but still get a great workout by using “compound” (working multiple muscles at once) exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, dumbbell shoulder presses, etc.
As you advance, you will want to have two or even three different lifting days, such as chest/back, shoulder/arms and legs. You can train the core on most days, as the abdominal muscles recover very quickly.
If you are trying to gain muscle, doing heavy weight training of 6–12 reps, four to five days a week for 45–75 minutes is ideal.
When it comes to building muscle, consuming adequate calories is key because your body needs calories to grow new tissue. Under-eating calories, especially while training regularly, also makes it more likely that you’ll experience fatigue and decreased performance.
If muscle growth is your primary goal, as opposed to weight loss, be sure to eat at or above your “maintenance calories” mark. You don’t need to go nuts, but aim to consume about 200–500 extra calories per day than you’d need to simply maintain your current weight.
If you want to build more muscle, you need protein. How much protein do you need per day to help build muscle? Here’s a general rule of thumb: Simply take your weight and eat roughly that many grams of protein per day.
So if you weigh 140 pounds and want to pack on some muscle, then you should try to consume about 140 grams of protein a day. Over four meals, that’d be 35 grams of protein per meal. (It's why protein shakes make one of the best snacks for muscle building.)
Again, since everyone is different, you should always consult your healthcare professional about what amount of protein intake may be right for you.
It’s important to leave time for muscle recovery in between workouts. While you may think that overtraining will lead to better results, the lack of rest can actually do more harm than good. Your body needs to be and feel recovered before your next workout. So if you show up to a workout and feel sore, reconsider that day’s workout and perhaps simply do some light cardio instead.
In order to avoid risk of injury, please seek advice directly from your healthcare professional, especially if you have existing medical issues, before beginning any exercise or nutritional program. Also, be sure to stretch after exercise to avoid muscle and joint tightness.