The crippling danger even ‘healthy’ women face

A growing concern for a woman at midlife is the decrease in lean muscle and the increase in body fat…

Changes that lead to sarcopenia – defined as significant loss of skeletal muscle – begin in your 30s and 40s. This happens to be about the time many women are rushing from boardroom to carpool and begin to see changes in their weight.

And for each decade after sarcopenia begins to affect you, you’ll lose an average of three to eight percent of your muscle mass. That adds up.

The tendency to skip or skimp on meals or opt for low calorie and low protein diets contributes to loss of muscle during these decades that leads to challenges with body composition in latter decades.

By the time we hit our 50s and 60s most of us have experienced significant loss of muscle and gained a little more fat than is desirable. Inflammatory disease (arthritis, cancer), illness, and chronic stress coupled with malnutrition, or inadequate protein intake, can speed losses of lean mass.

This dangerous combination of muscle loss and weight gain presents a crippling danger: sarcopenia coupled with obesity. “Sarcobesity” is a dangerous and yet avoidable condition that would make falls more likely and damage from them more debilitating. And it’s no secret that women are five times more likely to die following a fall — especially when it includes a hip break.

If you haven’t thought about it already, it’s time to seriously look at stopping your muscle loss – or at least – slowing it down…

Saving your muscle mass

In both my book, You Still Got It Girl and my free Protein Report I’ve pointed out the reasons why this happens along with the answers for preventing it.

Research is growing in support of protein recommendations being too low, as well as taking in the right level of protein consumption — at the right time — as being  major contributing factors that could help stave off muscle loss whether you are active or inactive.

If you exercise regularly you are likely more conscious about your need for protein. The truth is (and I mention this frequently in my Protein Report) adequate protein is as necessary if not more so for those who are not exercising as much as they want or need to.

A deliberate and coordinated dietary-protein and exercise prescription may be particularly important for middle-aged and older adults experiencing catabolic stressors such as illness, inflammation, physical inactivity, or injury.

If you are unable to exercise for a period of time due to a condition, illness or lack of time — nutrition, and protein consumption in particular, represents one of the few opportunities to positively influence muscle protein anabolism (the metabolic process by which your body make muscle from energy) and ultimately protect your muscle mass and function.

Resistance exercise temporarily inhibits protein synthesis. So here are some tips to help your muscles:

  • Wait temporarily before eating protein post exercise.
  • Absolutely avoid fructose during this period of time (and always: check your protein labels).
  • Growth hormone production may increase with a wait period of at least 60 to 90 minutes between exercise and eating.
  • Within 60 min post-exercise, the capacity for maximal muscle protein synthesis is restored and potentially increased.

Prevent muscles losses from ever happening by optimizing the potential for muscle protein anabolism.

  • Consume an adequate amount of high-quality protein at each meal. Eating protein in combination with physical activity represents a promising strategy to prevent or delay the onset of sarcopenia.
  • Adequate protein at each meal is defined in studies as 25-30 grams at lunch and dinner and 35 grams at breakfast. (Multiple studies published in 2008- 2016)

Studies show skeletal muscle mass was significantly higher in men and women consuming 25g of protein/meal vs. those consuming less.

The key to protein intake reducing muscles losses is amino acid intake per meal. The body needs an optimal amount for absorption and processing.

  • Amino acid absorption and subsequent stimulation of muscle protein synthesis were limited after ingestion of 10g of protein but increased substantially after the 20g protein meal and was highest after ingestion of 35g of protein.

At-a-glance protein and exercise combinations:

Not accustomed to eating before exercise:

  • Exercise 6 – 6:30am
  • Breakfast or breakfast smoothie 7:30am

Flexibility to both eat protein before and after am exercise:

  • Smoothie at 6:00am
  • Exercise 7:30 – 8:30am
  • Eat at 9:30 -10:00am

Lunch time exercise:

  • Mid morning smoothie 10:30
  • Exercise 12-1
  • Meal 2pm

Later day exercise:

  • Smoothie at 3pm
  • Exercise at 4:30
  • Evening meal at 6:30pm

Shift times as needed to fit your schedule.

Do the best you can on most days to either pre-or post-exercise, or both, fuel. If exercise is light there is less need to plan the protein timing. Exercise that is moderate to vigorous exercise (defined by either duration or intensity) has a greater impact on muscle breakdown, and thus increases your need to get adequate fuel.

Debra Atkinson

By Debra Atkinson

Debra Atkinson Is the founder of the Flipping 50 movement and host of the Flipping 50 podcast and TV show available on your iphone, ipad, and Apple TV. She is the author of four books including You Still Got It, Girl! The After 50 Fitness Formula For Women and Navigating Fitness After 50: Your GPS For Choosing Programs and Professionals You Can Trust.

Debra is a contributing blogger on the Huffington Post, ShareCare, Prime Woman, and Livingbetter50. She provides solutions for women approaching 50 or who have already turned the corner on what to eat, how to move, and the mindset for lifestyle change with hormone balance that will make the next years as the best years. Find her resources here.