Here’s a photograph of a meal sent to me by my 61-year-old trainee/client. My nervous system had three spontaneous responses when I saw the photograph. First, I was pleased to see that she is making the effort to consume the first-class (animal source) protein I’ve recommended. Second, my salivary glands got into action only to be disappointed. You know what I mean! And third, I started writing this article.
With this brief article, I’m attempting to present you with an insight into why protein is important for muscle tissue, and the all-important process of Muscle Protein Synthesis.
The quantity (mass) of your muscle and its contractility is greatly responsible for your physical ability as you age. The process of reduction in muscle quantity starts somewhere between the late 20s and early 30s, and it’s a downhill road from there. This is one of the reasons why athletes in their 30s cannot match up to the performance of athletes who are in their late teens and 20s. This is especially true in sports that require high physical effort. This is also true in the case of the physical output in the general population, and the aging population.
The combination of age-related loss of muscle mass and less than optimal amount of first-class protein is a surefire route to poor health: abnormal blood glucose, abnormal blood pressure, osteoporosis, loss of physical strength, etc.
If muscle mass is important for health, especially as you age, then, how can we sustain muscle mass as we grow older? The answer to this question is Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS).
Let’s understand MPS…
Strength training (resistance exercise) i.e. lifting progressively heavier weights, and consuming an adequate amount of protein, will result in the process of optimal MPS. MPS is a complex physiological process, and making this article too sciency will only confuse you. So I will share with you a simplified understanding of MPS. Here we go… Lifting heavy (progressively) weights results in stressing the muscle. This stress activates various physiological responses: muscle microtrauma, muscle inflammation, localized hormonal response, etc. These responses are responsible for repairing the muscle. However, it cannot complete this process unless you ingest adequate protein with a complete amino acid profile (All animal-derived protein contains a complete amino acid profile). The ingested protein is then deposited into the muscle, consequently increasing its muscle mass. If you eat an optimum amount of protein but do not lift heavy weights (or any other activity that stimulates all your muscles maximally) you’re not going to optimally utilize your protein for MPS. This is the reason why most long-time gym-goers who do not lift heavy weights do not gain muscle or strength in spite of eating adequate protein. Also, the opposite is true: people who lift heavy weights and do not eat adequate protein cannot progressively build muscle or strength. In situations where people lose a drastic amount of weight such as those on quick weight-loss programs, they lose muscle mass in spite of eating an optimal amount of protein. Losing muscle mass is detrimental to your health in the long term. Also, individuals who eat adequate amount of protein but do not train/exercise do not optimally utilize the protein for MPS and therefore will lose muscle as they age.
This understanding of MPS: combined effects of protein and strength training, is crucial for your health. A Strength Coach/Gym Trainer/Fitness Trainer/Nutritionist who acknowledges this process will greatly help in writing an effective training and nutrition program. If MPS is not understood clearly, and if you or your trainer/coach/nutritionist do not control the breakdown and repair of the muscle via effective programming, muscle loss will ensue.
So, in short, first-class protein plus strength training is optimal for muscle gain, preventing muscle loss and gaining bone density as you age. Sustaining a high amount of muscle mass and strength as you age will positively affect your physiological processes such as blood pressure, blood glucose, etc. If you work towards acquiring strength as you age, you will acquire optimal muscle mass and bone density as a by-product, and therefore will improve the quality of your life.
Endurance exercises build neither sufficient muscle strength nor muscle mass. Endurance exercises such as chronic running, cycling, etc may do the opposite in the absence of adequate calories. It may utilize your muscle protein for energy, thereby reducing the muscle mass in the long-run. And, lifting light weights forever isn’t going to benefit either.
Hope this information helps you with your health and training. Those who think this article may help somebody you know, please share it with them. If you have any questions or feedback feel free to leave in the comments section. Thank you for reading.
Stay Strong, Stay Healthy!