Muscle Power: How to Build It Back

By now, it’s a well-known fact that as we age, we lose muscle mass, particularly skeletal muscle mass (e.g. shoulder muscles, hamstring muscles and abdominal muscles) which we rely on to move, maintain posture and metabolism, and for strength.

For the most part, losing muscle mass (sarcopenia) begins somewhere around the age of 40. By the time we’re 80, we’ve lost more than 50%. That can lead to loss of mobility, balance problems, and falls.

As Dr. Jeremy D. Walston, a geriatrician at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explains,  “Sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults.” Interestingly, a study conducted by the American Journal of Medicine found that older adults with more muscle mass live longer than those with less.

Why does sarcopenia occur? Besides aging, sarcopenia can be accelerated by obesity, hormonal changes, and other health conditions. The good news is that although muscle mass declines with age, it’s never too late to build it back, so it pays to know how you can do that to keep your skeletal muscles healthy. Barring any specific health conditions, exercise and good nutrition will do the trick.Eat your way to muscle power

It’s a given that exercise and walking and stretching your muscles before physical activity are all extremely beneficial. So, if you can, try to build up your physical activity and exercise routine to at least 200-300 minutes per week (5 hours or more, spread out over a seven-day period). We’ll address the types of exercises you should do in a future blog post. Today, we’re taking a brief look at nutrition and how it helps to build muscle power.

A healthy diet is one of the key factors in building back your muscle mass. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are several steps to take to maintain your nutritional health. Here are the top five:

  • Don’t skip breakfast. Breakfast breaks the overnight fast and gets your metabolism going. It gives you the energy you need and helps to lower levels of “bad” cholesterol. Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. Water is best for staying hydrated, but you also can drink juice, milk, herbal tea, and certain sports drinks. Skip the sodas and caffeinated drinks like coffee which sap body nutrients and minerals. You need a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day; more if you actively exercise.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily (as many as 9 portions a day). You’ve heard it before and it’s still true. An easy way to get your portions in is to eat a large salad with multiple veggies, fruits and nuts.
  • Eat whole grains and unprocessed foods, and try to avoid as much deli (processed) meats, which are high in sodium and fat. Whole grains include whole wheat, whole oats/oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, quinoa, and wild rice.
  • You’ll need protein to build your muscles; but watch your intake. The body cannot store protein, so it’s best to have small amounts throughout the day – 10% to 35% of your daily calorie intake, according to the Mayo Clinic. Age and activity level should be factored in to how much protein your body needs every day. The healthiest protein comes from plant sources such as: lentils, seeds, nuts, and beans. But egg whites, low-fat dairy, fish, and skinless, white-meat poultry are also good sources.

Have a sweet tooth? Try these protein-rich cookies

Here are a couple of protein-containing cookies that will sate your appetite. These recipes – both variations on the same theme – appear online on various websites. Try them both and see which one is your favorite:

BANANA-PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES – I
  • 3 ripe bananas or about 1 1/2 cups pureed or mashed until smooth
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
  • handful coarse sea salt, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to thoroughly combine the first three ingredients until it reaches a smooth and uniform consistency.
  3. Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto a greased or lined cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart.
  4. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with a pinch of sea salt.
  5. Bake for 8-15 minutes until cookies lose their sheen.
  6. Allow to cool and set on the cookie sheets for 3-5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
BANANA-PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES – II
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed or pureed until smooth
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder
  • 4 T maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas until smooth
  3. Add peanut butter, cocoa, and maple syrup and mix until smooth.
  4. Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto a greased or lined cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool and set on the cookie sheets for 3-5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7.  Yum!

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