It’s been shown that it’s never too late to start exercising. So I started. It’s been a while now and I was putting the effort in, but I wasn’t seeing much of a difference.
I’ve been working out regularly with dumbbells. I’m eating healthy food and avoiding junk food. I don’t see many muscles, I don’t really even feel that much stronger. But I still keep working at it. I want to build muscle to counter age related muscle loss, boost my metabolism and recover my bone density.
What am I doing wrong? Now I know.
I wasn’t eating enough calories.
I wasn’t eating enough protein.
I wasn’t lifting challenging enough weights.
So, I joined a gym. Remember Jack LaLanne? They laughed at him when he wanted to charge people money to exercise at a gym to lift weights. That’s ridiculous. Who would ever pay money to exercise? Look at us now. The gym is quite busy.
He was also the first to have women use weights and encouraged the elderly to exercise for health. Both bizarre concepts in his day.
Not so crazy anymore, right?
Anyway, back to our story.
The body is in a constant cycle of both the breakdown and build up processes of the body. Those are referred to as
–Anabolic process – the build up of new cells and tissue, storing of energy for future use as well as building muscle.
–Catabolic process– the breakdown of molecules to release energy to provide fuel for anabolism, heating the body, moving, processes such as digestion, removal of waste products, etc.
The breakdown and build up of muscle are examples of this. In order to build muscle the anabolic process needs to be greater than the catabolic process.
Why We Need to Preserve/Build Muscle
With age comes less activity, fat gain and muscle loss. After age 30 people lose 5-10 lbs of muscle each decade in turn crippling their metabolism. Why do we lose muscle? Because we stop using them. You know the saying….Use it or lose it.
The breakdown and build up of muscle uses food energy to make more muscle. 1 pound of extra muscle burns an extra 50 calories even when you’re not doing anything. The more you have, the more it uses. More muscle will make it easier to workout harder, which in turn will burn more calories. This is especially true when compared to someone who sits around all day.
Also consider this, for each pound of muscle lost you reduce your calorie burn by 50ish calories.
Without weight training, your body will breakdown and use your muscle when in a prolonged calorie deficit (aka on a diet). Dieting is catabolic. Using weights regularly will help maintain those muscles. Without it, you will just end up with a thinner, but flimsier and less healthy you.
How We Grow Muscle
In order for muscle to grow, muscle synthesis needs to be greater than muscle breakdown. You can’t build muscle if you are in a calorie deficit.
You must challenge your muscles to produce gains. So, if you’re not struggling through those workouts, you may be wasting your time or will make little progress.
When you workout, tiny tears occur in your muscle fibers. These are actually good tears. They are necessary for muscle growth.
The protein you eat is used to repair those tears in your muscles (and is used in many other systems in your body).
After your workout, your body repairs these tears by producing new muscle fiber. This produces thickness and causes muscle growth. This occurs when you REST. So sleeping is just as important for muscle growth as exercise is. More surprising reasons sleep is important for our bodies
The Role of Protein
Protein synthesis is the process of taking available amino acids and building new proteins for all parts of your body. Muscle protein synthesis is building new muscle protein. Protein: Why, How Much and Risks
Your body needs enough protein in order to synthesize muscle fibers. Without the proper tools, your body will not be able to build.
Depending on your size, muscle protein synthesis is initiated when you have about 30 grams of protein at once. You want to do this a few times a day. Breakfast is a good time to do this, as well as right after a workout.
Protein after exercise decreases recovery time after workouts. Have protein 1-2 hours after your workout.
The following are amino acids particularly important to muscle protein synthesis:
- Leucine is key in protein synthesis. It helps prevent muscle loss, has highest capacity for muscle building. (3-4 grams) It initiates the protein synthesis process.
- Besides leucine, two other amino acids promote building muscle. They are valine and isoleucine. . They are referred to as Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA).
- Arginine- aids in protein synthesis and recovery . Provides nitric oxide allowing more blood and nutrients to be pumped to muscles, boosting growth and repair.
- Glutamine- prevents muscle breakdown and hydrating muscle.
Types of Protein
Whole food protein. This is best. Animal and plant protein sources offer many additional nutrients that you won’t find in supplements.
- Animal proteins are complete sources of protein.
- Plant proteins are incomplete sources. More on animal and plant protein
Supplements– useful to fill in gaps, but not necessary.
Protein supplements should not be used as meal replacements. It is best to get your protein from real whole foods as much as possible.
If using a supplement, always choose a one that uses quality protein ingredients and is not loaded with sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. Look at the ingredient list!
Best sources of protein supplements are:
- Whey protein powder– Complete protein. It contains all the amino acids, high in protein per gram and tastes good. It is the clear liquid that separates from the curd during the cheese making process. Choose grass-fed, organic, antibiotic/hormone free protein powder as much as possible. Whey isolate has been filtered to remove ingredients in the milk and produce a purer protein with a higher concentration of protein. Hydrolyzed whey protein is filtered even further and is a good option for those who have digestive issues with dairy. Hydrolyzed protein is broken down into finer molecules, it has a higher protein ratio, fewer allergens (lactose-free, casein-free). It is also digested faster.
- Egg protein powder– Complete quality protein. Usually made from egg whites. It is digested slowly and stimulates muscle growth. A good choice if you can’t have dairy, but can tolerate eggs. Find one that uses eggs that are organic, pasture-raised, non-gmo. Must be pasteurized or cooked before use to kill potential pathogens and deactivate a protein called avidin that will bind to biotin and potentially cause a biotin deficiency.
- Plant based protein powder– This is a good choice if you are vegan or are sensitive to dairy or eggs. Some plant sources are low in amino acids, because they are incomplete sources of protein. Choose an organic pea protein powder, preferably one that is combined with another complementing protein such as organic rice, amaranth or quinoa. This will contain the best amino acid protein profile. Make sure it’s been tested for heavy metals and such.
When I use a supplement, I use a grass-fed hydrolyzed whey, because it is free of lactose and casein, so it doesn’t bother my stomach. I only use this after a good workout. I also use pea protein powder that has a combination of proteins in it. I don’t use these as meal replacements. I only use them when I come up short on my daily protein.
How Much Protein
Give your body proper construction materials. Strength training won’t add muscle if you’re not feeding it the proper supplies to do so.
Eat .6-.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight to stimulate protein synthesis for the average person not exercising much. However, you’ll need more if you are training intensely, older or dieting to lose fat. Then you should eat 1-1.2 grams per pound of lean body weight. For example, if your ideal body weight is 115 pounds then you should eat 115-138 grams of protein per day.
In the beginning, I had some trouble consuming that much protein, especially since I don’t eat dairy. So no yogurt, cheese, etc. It was also crowding out the vegetables I normally eat. But now I have a plan and I have found a happy medium. I am able to get all my protein, veggies, fiber and such.
Eat some lean protein at every meal.
Combine animal and plant proteins. For a well rounded diet.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables during the day, at least 7 servings. A good split would be 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables.
Don’t forget they can be good sources of protein as well. They also provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that you don’t get in animal sources of protein.
Avoid less healthy sources of protein, such as processed meats.
Eat healthy complex carbs for energy, especially after your workout.
Having 30-40 grams 3x a day is best to trigger protein synthesis depending on your size. Studies show having more than that at one time doesn’t do more for synthesis. Closer to 30 is probably plenty for most of us. You certain can eat more than that but it won’t build more muscle. Spread the rest out over the course of the day.
Types of Muscle
Slow twitch- endurance muscles, low intensity, tire less quickly- working over long periods of time. Use lighter weights and do more reps at a slower pace. Perform some interval workouts as well.
Fast twitch- rapid movements, high intensity, tire more quickly- Use heavier weights and fewer reps.
Everyone has a set amount of muscle fibers however, some people have more fast twitch and some people have more slow twitch. This is why some people are better at running and some people are stronger. Your muscle make up will impact your result.
Regardless of your make up, you should exercise to train BOTH types of muscle.
As stated before, exercise without adequate protein will not build muscle. Likewise, eating protein without strenuous exercise will not build muscle either.
Compound exercises are most effective. Work out more than one muscle at a time. Like a squat for instance opposed to leg curl.
Train each muscle group at least twice a week. Remember muscles come in pairs, you need to work out both (for example, a bicep and tricep). You can work different muscle groups each day or do a whole body workout with a rest day in between.
According to some trainers you should plan on increasing reps each week and increasing weight each month. Moving on to a higher weight will reduce your reps. After you build your reps up again, move to a higher weight. For example, when you can do about 12 reps increase your weight. Then, you should only be able to do about 8 reps. When you build back up to 12 reps, increase your weight again.
Lift 70-80% of maximum weight. Maximum equals weight you can only do 8 reps of.
Once a week use weights so heavy you can only do 5-7 reps.
Periodically, train muscles close to failure, meaning you can’t do another rep.
A longer rest between sets is better.
Excessive cardio will work against building muscle (catabolic) and ages you. Interval training is a better choice.
Exercise should be progressive- gradually add more weight, do more reps, change up your exercises.
Being big and being strong aren’t necessarily the same thing. If you are a woman, don’t worry, you won’t get big.
Benefits of Weight Training
- Regain bones. An orthopedic doctor states that few older participants in weight bearing sports have osteoporosis.
- Improve balance.
- Have more energy.
- Helps with weight loss.
- Boost metabolism.
- Increase mobility at all ages.
- Helps maintain healthy joints.
- Increased strength. Cardio alone won’t make you strong.
- Reduces sugar in the blood. Muscles use some of the sugar in your blood during exercise. Even taking a walk after you eat is helpful.
Risks of Lack of Exercise
Sarcopenia- muscle wasting that leads to premature aging. We naturally lose muscle mass after age 30. It starts even earlier when we are sedentary.
Lack of muscle affects all bodily systems.- poor posture, nerve function, stress on the heart and organs, slower metabolism, less energy, increased weight and more.
Skinny fat- Being underweight and lacking muscle tone. In a state of muscle loss. This is not healthy.
As muscles weaken, older people become more unstable and are at higher risk for falls.
Lack of muscle damages joints.
Less muscle equals fewer calories burned and less sugar burned from blood.
Types of Muscle Building Exercises
You can start with isometrics or body weight exercises and build to heavier things when you’re ready, such as barbells or weight machines.
Isometrics- contracting/pressing a muscle fully without moving. Contract to the point of trembling.
Everyday chores can build muscle as well if you engage your muscles in a challenging way.
Do super slow reps. Taking 7-10 seconds to life a weight. It eliminates the help of momentum completely. Studies show this may be a good option for beginners or the elderly.
Use good form
Rest- between sets 1-2 minutes
Stop immediately with pain (not the same as soreness or burn)
Don’t over train, give yourself rest days so your muscles have time to recover. You’ll perform better that way.
I haven’t been able to train too hard yet, because I am trying to recover from tennis elbow. Rest is important for recovery. I’m working my lower half as much as I am able in spite of my back. I have made some progress in spite of it. I can already see a difference in the couple of short weeks it’s been.
“The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” Exodus 15:2