Boost Muscle Mass: Eat the Right Foods at the Right Time

What you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat all contribute to your overall health and well-being. The latest studies in nutritional science recommend that older adults consume an adequate amount of protein at each meal to offset the effects of age-related muscle loss and changes in the way food is metabolized.

Muscle mass peaks at about age 30. Thereafter, the muscle fibers slowly decrease in size and number. By age 80, up to 30 percent of muscle bulk may be lost.

Add More Protein into Your Day
Studies show that most people need to boost their protein intake at breakfast and lunch. Registered Dietitian Nancee Jaffe, UCLA Digestive Health & Nutrition Clinic, recommends the following foods:
Serving size Protein
Greek-style yogurt 5.5 oz 15-20 grams
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp. 8 grams
Aged cheeses 1 oz. 7 grams
Eggs, lean chicken, or nonfat milk 8 oz. 8 grams

“Sarcopenia, or the normal loss of lean body mass with age, is why older adults need more protein,” explains registered dietitian Nancee Jaffe, UCLA Digestive Health & Nutrition Clinic. “Loss starts to occur between 40-50 years of age and continues to decline by one percent every year. With each one percent loss of muscle mass there is a corresponding three percent loss in muscle strength each year.”

Benefits of Protein at Every Meal

A recent 24-week clinical trial showed that eating more protein at breakfast and lunch improved lean muscle mass in healthy older adults. Researchers from the University of Limerick in Ireland randomly assigned 60 healthy men and women, ages 50-70, to have either protein supplements or a control compound at breakfast and lunch.

After 24 weeks, participants in the protein-supplement and control groups were all tested for changes in body composition (fat to lean tissue ratio). Those in the protein supplement group increased lean tissue mass by nearly a pound, which is considered significant. Those in the control group lost one-third of a pound of lean tissue mass. The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, suggests that an optimized and balanced distribution of meal protein could be beneficial in preserving lean tissue mass in older adults.

“Adding protein to breakfast and lunch is relevant because studies have shown that most people tend to eat very little protein in the morning, more at lunch, and the most protein is consumed at dinner,” says Jaffe. “When protein is consumed all at one meal, it is difficult for the body to assimilate.”

Food Timing and Exercise for Optimum Strength

Spreading out protein throughout the day can help stave off some age-related muscle loss. But that doesn’t mean you can forgo exercise. Resistance training maintains muscular power and can rebuild lost strength. If you haven’t exercised in a while, consult with a personal trainer or physical therapist who can help create the ideal program for your current fitness level.

Examples of foods that have a good supply of protein and leucine:
Food Serving Leucine Protein
Whey isolate protein powder 1 scoop 2.9 g 20 g
Chicken breast 4 oz. 2.1 g 24 g
Eggs 4, large 2.2 g 24 g
Black beans 1.75 cups 2.5 g 26 g

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