As we age, our human growth hormone levels used for body development begin to decline. In childhood, the human body has the highest levels of human growth hormone which enables our bodies to grow and develop as they should. By the time puberty occurs, the body will stop growing new muscle cells. Genetics will determine the amount of muscle fiber cells you have in your body and that number will never change.
The older we get the harder it becomes to build lean muscle mass. It’s certainly still possible to gain muscle as we age but it does become more difficult. To retain and continue building the muscle mass you have you will need to incorporate the proper diet and weight-training exercises into your daily life.
How to Maintain and Gain Muscle Through Diet
Muscle gain can be achieved through good nutrition and a proper workout strategy. Both work hand in hand to build up muscle and improve strength. What you put in your body is vital to good physical fitness. You can work out every day but if you are not fueling your body correctly, you will not achieve results.
Your diet will make a difference in how successful you are at gaining muscle and strength regardless of age. There are many simple foods which provide the nutrients to keep your body performing optimally including:
- Beef (lean). Beef contains may nutrients your body requires to grow healthy muscles including B vitamins, iron, and zinc. Lean beef is also a low-calorie food offering high quality proteins and amino acids to aid in the growth of muscles.
- Chicken (skinless). Chicken also contains high quality proteins for muscle health. Chicken is also good for healthy bones and weight sustainability.
- Eggs. Another high protein food, an egg contains nine essential amino acids. It also offers Vitamin D and choline which is necessary for cell maintenance.
- Fish including tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Low in fat and high in protein, fish is not only good for the muscles, it is vital for brain health and essential for good metabolism.
- Whole Grains. Whole grains offer more of the nutrients the body needs. They are also more digestible than processed foods. Whole grains like brown rice offers support for lean muscle growth and weight loss.
- Vegetables and Fruits. Fresh produce is important for the antioxidants they offer. Other nutrients like beta-carotene and a number of vitamins are also found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Their fiber content is especially important for flushing waste from the body.
- Cottage Cheese. A low-fat cottage cheese is a great way to maintain muscles. It is made up of a casein protein which is slow-digesting. Cottage cheese also offers necessary nutrients like calcium and vitamin B12.
Exploring Muscle-Friendly Supplements
Even when you incorporate the healthiest foods into your diet, you may still need the added benefits supplements can offer. There are several supplements on the market which offer notable help for those interested in muscle gain and building muscle strength.
Here are 12 supplements to try to increase your muscle health:
- Whey Protein Powder
Protein is an important part of building and retaining muscle. It is vital for the development, growth, and repair of many parts within the body including muscles, bones, blood, and organs. Protein also aids in good weight management.
You can lose fat without having to lose muscle if you are consuming the proper amount and the right kind of protein in your daily diet. Whey protein is a great supplement to maintain muscle as it is a fast-digesting protein and easy to incorporate into your daily diet.
Creatine is an effective muscle gain supplement to provide energy to the cells of the muscles. Creatine is naturally produced in the body and is also found in fish and red meat. With more energy, muscles will be able to do more work thereby increasing your muscle growth and overall strength.
This supplement has been shown to be effective at reducing muscle soreness and speeding up workout recovery. L-glutamine is the most pronounced amino acid in the muscles and becomes essential after rigorous workouts to help with muscle recovery.
- Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil supplements are rich in omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. These are the good kinds of fat you need in your diet. These fatty acids are not naturally produced in the human body but are necessary for properly body function. Our diet is where we get these essential fatty acids.
- Casein Protein Powder
Casein is a milk protein which aids in boosting muscle growth. It is a slow-digesting protein often used as a snack for those building muscle especially at bedtime and after a workout.
ZMA incorporates zinc, vitamin B6 and magnesium aspartate. Those in training are often deficient in these important minerals and require a supplement. These minerals are needed for proper hormone levels and helpful in restful sleep which is necessary for muscle recovery. Studies have shown ZMA increased athletes’ testosterone and IGF-1 levels.
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids. These include valine, isoleucine, and leucine which are vital amino acids for the purpose of building and repairing muscle tissue. Leucine is considered the most important as it works to stimulate muscle growth. However, it is often recommended all three be taken at the same time as they work together to build muscle, increase energy, and prevent muscle soreness.
- Beta-Alanine & Carnosine
Beta-Alanine combined with histidine forms carnosine, an important amino acid. Muscles with higher levels of carnosine have been shown to have increased endurance and more strength. This amino acid works to increase the contraction ability of the muscles without tiring.
- Nitric Oxide Boosters
This molecule is found in many areas of the body. Those concerned about muscle gain use nitric oxide because of its effectiveness at dilating blood vessels. When the vessels dilate, more blood is allowed to flow into the muscles. This increases performance and provides you with more muscle energy. Nitric oxide also aids in faster muscle recovery. The boosters do not contain nitric oxide but rather the amino acid arginine. When it is ingested, the amino acid is converted into nitric oxide naturally by the body.
Carnitine is gaining popularity among athletes for several reasons. First, it helps to increase the blood flow to the muscles. It also increases testosterone levels following a workout. This triggers T receptors inside the cells of the muscle, stimulating more growth. Carnitine supplements have also been studied for their effectiveness at increasing IGF-1 levels.
Beta-ecdysterone is found in plants like spinach. It has a duty to prevent insects from destroying the plant. In the human body, beta-ecdysterone helps to stimulate protein synthesis leading to muscle growth and increased muscle strength.
Caffeine is helpful in enhancing performance by boosting testosterone and increasing motivation and focus. Caffeine is especially effective at increasing ability for athletes who are tired before training.
Muscle Strength-Building Strategies to Try
Building and maintaining strength in the muscles is part of good physical fitness. There are several things to remember as you work to strengthen and build your muscle.
Don’t Overcomplicate It. While you need to plan for hard work, always remember to keep your routine simple. Don’t subscribe to complicated reps when lifting your weights. Your goal is not to have the highest count. It’s more about the increasing the weight load with each work out.
Practice the Main Four. There are four exercises which provide the most effective moves for strengthening muscles: the deadlift, shoulder press, squat, and bench press. Other moves can increase strength but these four main moves should be the focal point of your workout. You should also ensure you are perfecting your form on each move for best results and safety.
- Deadlifts – Place your legs with a narrow width apart and hold the stance you would as if you were about to jump. When reaching down for the bar, make sure your back is straight and your hips are down. Your shoulders should be holding over your knees.
- Shoulder Press – When the bar has reached shoulder level, flare your laterals to help you use more of the weight.
- Squats – Start each squat by pushing back your hips as far as possible. Your low back should be arched. Your hamstring should feel the stretch. Bend your knees and begin squatting low.
- Bench Press – When you start, pull your head off the bench and your feet steady. As you grab the bar, pull your body up from the bench and forward. When your glutes hit the bench, your lower back should be arched. Shoulder blades should be squeezed together and your range of motion should be shortened. This will provide you with stronger pressing ability.
Resist Overworking Yourself. It’s recommended you use 3-4 lifts in each workout. Short periods of time will allow your body to benefit from the quick bursts of hormones its producing. Working out for long stretches of time can make your movements lazy so quick sessions can help you focus on proper lift techniques.
Barbell Priority. Barbells and dumbbells should be the primary pieces of equipment you use. Workouts should begin with barbell exercises with the main four movements. This will be the heaviest load of your workout to help you improve strength. Follow up with dumbbell and bodyweight training exercises.
Keep a Journal. Take the time to write down the types of exercises you are doing and the number of sets and reps you perform. Make note of how you feel after each workout to help you track the movements working best for you. This will also give you a way to work on improving your numbers.
Don’t Rush Weight Additions. If you lift too heavy a weight for too long, you’ll stop gaining muscle strength. It is better to set the weight limit with 10% less of what you can lift to start out. Increase the weight by no more than 10 pounds with each session. This strategy will help prevent plateauing in the future.
Get Intense with Cardio. Cardio activity is important for developing lean, mean muscle. Short periods of intense cardio workouts are more effective than long-distance runs. Sprinting up a steep hill or a staircase then walking to the bottom again is a good routine to incorporate. Note how many sprints you can accomplish in the first workout then continue adding two more sprints each time to increase your stamina and strength.
Find Body Balance. Balance is key for effective workouts. The moves you perform on one side of your body must also be done for the other side. If you neglect to stay balanced in your workout, you could cause imbalances in your muscles and end up with an injury.
Are You Overworking Your Muscles?
In the rush to gain muscle and build strength, many will demand too much of their bodies at one time. Overtraining your body can have negative effects on your goal and can even cause you serious injury. If you find you spend more time in the gym than anywhere else throughout the week, you may need to take a step back and reevaluate what you hope to achieve.
Your body will find ways to tell you what it needs. It is vital you continue to listen to what it is saying. If you ignore what your own body is indicated, you will ultimately do it more harm than good.
Here are signs your body is being overworked:
Sore muscles – sore muscles will happen for one or two days after a workout but if your muscles are still experiencing soreness following 72 hours post-workout, you need to rest. When muscles feel sore, it means they are not recovering properly. Without good recovery, muscles will not gain strength and you face injury risks.
Unquenchable thirst – if you feel you are constantly thirsty and nothing will quench that thirst, you are probably overtraining. Thirst is the first signal you are dehydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of water while training but pay attention to your level of thirst.
More injuries – when injuries seem to be occurring more often, you may need to back off your training schedule. Injuries happen when your body hasn’t had sufficient time to recover after a workout. Whether the injuries are new or you are irritating old injuries, you need to incorporate more rest periods in between workouts.
Lack of changes – if you notice your body is no longer showing improvement as you continue to work hard, you might be reversing your progress. Overworking your body can result in tearing of muscles and continuing to work too hard will increase muscle damage. Muscles require rest to recover properly. When your body stops showing signs of positive change, you need to take a time out and let your body recover.
Illness – if you feel sick a lot of the time, your immune system may be telling you something. Overtraining can lower the effectiveness of your immune system to combat sickness. Reduce your training schedule and get some rest. Make sure your diet is nutritionally complete. You may need to supplement with glutamine and vitamins A and E to protect your immune system.
Accelerated heart rate – measure your heartrate first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. If your resting heart rate is altered during your workouts, you may be demanding too much from your body.
Lack of interest – there may be a day when the last thing you want to do is go to the gym. If you find you are losing interest in your workouts after being dedicated to the routine, you might be pushing your body too hard. Losing interest in what you love is a sign you need to make changes. Take a week off from training. When you restart, do it in increments until you can return to your usual workout schedule.
Depression – overtraining affects the nervous system. If you are overdoing it, you may begin to feel less accomplished and less satisfied with your workouts. You may feel irritable, depressed, or unable to sleep well. Make sure you are resting and eating right. Stay hydrated and make it a priority to get adequate sleep each night.
Experts at Men’s Fitness suggest scheduling a recovery week on a regular basis. A recovery week should be part of the plan every 3-5 weeks and involve a routine of half of the usual reps and loads you usually do. This will help re-energize your muscles and overall body, preventing overtraining syndrome from taking over. Overtraining syndrome happens when you are working out too hard and suffering from exhaustion. This condition can result in chemical changes in the body and even psychological problems. Being too tired can cause injuries if you are failing to workout properly so rest and good sleep habits is a vital part of muscle strength building.