In the war we’re all fighting against Father Time, there are certain battles that get more lip service than others. You already know to be on the lookout for problems like memory loss or weakening bones once you hit a certain age.
But there’s another age-related condition that you may not spend much—if any—time thinking about. Even though it’s just as insidious. And every bit as lethal.
This condition is called sarcopenia. It’s characterized by progressive muscle loss that leaves you weak and frail. Unfortunately, many people mistake it as a “normal” part of getting older. So it doesn’t get the attention it deserves…despite being more common than any of the other age-related conditions we spend so much time talking about.
So today, I’m going to lay out my foolproof prescription for preserving muscle mass well into your golden years. Because make no mistake—there’s a lot on the line, here.
In fact, lean muscle may be the most important deciding factor between simply staying alive and looking and feeling like a million bucks.
Why the fight for your muscles really starts at 30
Let’s start with some technical definitions… and then I’ll explain exactly what they mean to you.
Simply put, sarcopenia is a condition marked by losses in both muscle mass and muscle function. These declines happen gradually over time, and their end result is about as dire as it gets: disability, steep drops in quality of life… and often, death.
To make matters worse, declines in muscle mass strike earlier than you may expect. The elderly are at the highest risk for sarcopenia—but only because they have more years of muscle loss under their belts.
The scary truth is, muscle mass starts taking a nosedive as soon as you hit 30.
So by the time you’re 70? Well, if you haven’t taken measures to prevent major losses, you could be struggling with the fallout of sarcopenia on a daily basis.
This is exactly what you don’t want to happen. Because it will dramatically erode your bone mass, your heart health (after all, the heart is your body’s most powerful muscle), and your basic ability to perform basic daily routines, from the moment you get out of bed in the morning until you climb back in at night.
Weak muscles don’t protect your joints—which can lead to arthritis. And less muscle mass can lead to gait changes, reduced activity, more falls, and overall fatigue. In short, many of the things that can make you feel older and frailer than you really are.
But now for the good news: Sarcopenia is completely preventable. Plus, you can make major inroads against existing muscle loss at any age.
The most effective muscle-saving strategies are way simpler than you might expect
First things first, let’s talk diet and exercise.
Because, at the most basic level, sarcopenia is just another byproduct of “sitting disease”—a modern plague that ages you from the inside out. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle can rob up to 5 percent of your muscle mass every year.
This, of course, doesn’t bode well for the average American. I’d even go so far as to predict we’ll have a sarcopenia epidemic on our hands very soon. Not enough exercise, a national diet packed with processed garbage, and a rapidly aging population… It’s a trifecta for complete disaster.
But, as I mentioned above, it’s completely preventable. And with some simple changes, you can reverse damage that’s already been done—and regain the strength you had 5, 10, even 20 years ago.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to choke down raw eggs and spend hours at the gym to bring sarcopenia to a halt. But you do have to increase your protein intake and start moving.
Resistance is key—in more ways than one
In terms of exercise, there are a few specific things you can do. (None of which have to be difficult—just more than what you’re doing now.)
If you were one of my particularly frail patients, I’d simply ask you to walk around your house, and go up and down the stairs (if you have them) once or twice a day. If you live in an apartment building, walk up and down the hallway—once to start, with increasing repetitions as you get stronger.
And if you live near a park, I always recommend a walk or two outside, every single day. It really doesn’t get easier, or more convenient, than that.
As for weights, I encourage all of my patients to have a small 5 pound bar, and to do even just one bicep curl or shoulder press. If you can’t do this, simply face a wall, and do a push up against it, using your own weight for resistance.
This is a great place to start. But if you can do more, you absolutely should. In fact, you must.
Regular resistance training is the only way to build and preserve muscle mass as you age. And effective resistance training, for men and women, entails working muscles to failure. (Which isn’t as scary as it sounds. It simply means until you can’t lift any more.)
By the time you reach your final repetitions, you should be struggling to finish. Once you’re able to complete sets comfortably, it’s time to move up to a heavier weight or a more challenging exercise.
If you have joint issues or injuries, exercises like yoga and pilates are great alternatives to traditional weights. They use the weight of your own body to increase muscle tone. And you can find classes or videos to accommodate any range of abilities, from beginner to advanced.
Either way, start where you’re comfortable, and work your way up from there.
Your best defense against muscle loss starts in the kitchen
I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it again: You must eat more protein.
Protein is an essential source of amino acids. And your body needs amino acids to do virtually everything. Chief among these biological tasks is building muscle.
For years, the medical establishment has been telling the public to cut down on protein intake—and I have no doubt this terrible advice is the primary contributing factor behind the rise in sarcopenia.
In fact, the RDA for protein is a paltry 7 oz. of meat per day for the average 130 pound woman.
Research shows that the daily dose of protein should be at least double this amount, if the goal is to improve muscle mass and reduce frailty and weakness.
I laid out my protein recommendations in detail back in the October 2015 issue. But here’s a quick refresher: Eat your body weight in grams of protein on the days you’re not exercising. And eat 1.5 times your body weight on the days that you do hit the gym.
Now, I realize that may seem like a daunting number. But if you include protein with every meal (in the form of eggs, nuts, and/or meat), you shouldn’t have too much trouble reaching this goal. And you can bump up your protein intake by having a whey protein shake once or twice a day.
The all-natural triple-threat that keeps you strong, slim, and healthy
Speaking of whey protein, a recent study shows that it can make a significant impact in reversing sarcopenia… and restoring vitality from the inside out.
This study focused on whey protein combined with two of my other go-to recommendations—essential amino acids and vitamin D3.
One group took the whey/amino acid/vitamin D3 nutrient cocktail every day for 12 weeks. The other group took a placebo. Both groups followed the same controlled exercise program.
Results showed that the group taking the supplement trio benefited from greater handgrip strength, higher lean muscle mass, and lower body fat. They also lowered their levels of c-reactive protein—a notorious marker for inflammation—and reported better quality of life.
Clearly, diet and exercise are key—but as this study shows, smart supplementation can take your efforts to the next level.
In fact, I think amino acids—the building blocks of all protein—are so important that I’m writing an entire new book about the subject, to be released in the spring of 2017. (Until then, you can revisit the March 2014 issue, where I describe the age-defying benefits of amino acids in detail.)
As for vitamin D, I can never stress its importance enough. If you’re not taking at least 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily, please start doing so immediately. And ask your doctor to check your levels. For optimal health, you need to aim for
Two more critical allies in your muscle rescue mission
Whey protein, amino acids, and vitamin D are the essentials for rebuilding muscle mass. But there are also a couple of other supplements that can support your efforts even further. For example, alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine—or alpha GPC for short—offers a major advantage against sarcopenia as well.
Alpha GPC is a form of choline, which is a nutrient that’s usually grouped with the B-complex vitamins. Choline is an essential part of cell membranes—especially brain cell membranes. And like so many critical nutrients, choline levels tend to decline as you get older.
That’s what makes it one of the best nutritional supplements to slow down the aging process—and to help with the delay of sarcopenia, in particular.
For one thing, research also shows that alpha GPC helps stimulate your pituitary gland to produce human growth hormone.[5-6] And that can increase lean muscle mass and help you get more out of the exercise you do.
So if you’re not taking this vital nutrient already, I suggest you start today. The average dosage in most studies is 800 mg to 1,000 mg per day. But lower doses can work just as well, especially as part of a combination formula featuring a spectrum of B vitamins.
Lastly, I should mention that I am a big proponent of testosterone replacement therapy in both men and women.
And if you read my November 2012 issue, then you know that I recommend people of either gender keep an eye out for the symptoms of “low T.”
One of these tell-tale signs is a marked decline in muscle mass. So if you’ve been feeling weak or sluggish, you should absolutely ask your doctor to test your levels.
Testosterone is only available by prescription, so this is a necessary step anyway. Just remember that you want your reading to be towards the high end of the spectrum—not just squeaking by into the normal range.
If you want to look and feel like you did 30 years ago, you need to keep all your bases covered. And the bare minimum just won’t cut it.
Muscle loss paves the way to chronic health problems
Sarcopenia doesn’t just leaving you feeling weak. It also affects every part of our life. Here are just a few of the conditions and concerns it can lead to…
- Gait changes
- Reduced or limited activity
- Weight gain
- Heart failure
One instance where vegetables aren’t your best bet
The fact is, even supposedly “high-protein” grains and legumes, like freekah and lentils are pretty weak sources of protein. And it’s practically impossible to get the amount of protein your body requires to maintain and repair your muscles with vegetable protein alone.
Case in point: In one study, men with the highest animal protein intake had 39 percent lower odds of muscular and cognitive decline, compared to men with the lowest intake of animal protein. Plant protein, however, didn’t offer any consistent benefits.
That’s a pretty serious advantage. So do your body a favor, and skip the veggie protein. Enjoy a juicy burger and thick, creamy whey protein shake instead.
They easy “whey” to meet your protein quota
A daily whey protein shake is a great way to pack extra protein into your diet, provided you choose the right mix and prepare it properly. Here are a few key rules of thumb:
- Keep it low sugar/low carb. Make sure you look at the supplement facts. The product you choose should contain less than 10 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
- Mix it with water only. You can also blend it with plain ice to make a smoothie.
- Simplicity is key. Resist the urge to add fruit or any other flavor boosters.
- Add a spoonful of macadamia oil—especially if you’re trying to get lean. A little bit of macadamia nut oil will ward off cravings and help your body burn fat.
 Santilli V, et al. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab. 2014 Sep;11(3):177-80
 Pasiakos SM, et al. FASEB J. 2013 Sep;27(9):3837-47.
 Imai E, et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2014 Mar;62(3):426-34.
 Rondanelli M, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):830-40.
 Ziegenfuss T, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008; 5(Suppl 1): P15.
 Kawamura T, et al. Nutrition. 2012 Nov-Dec;28(11-12):1122-6.