If you had to name your longevity organ? The organ that determines how you age, your lifespan and quality of life? What would you say?
Did you answer MUSCLE? If you did, good for you! Muscle is our largest organ and is our organ of longevity.
Our nation’s body composition has become very skewed with lean body mass low and adipose (fat) tissue high. There’s been a lot of talk about shifting focus from being overfat to being under-muscled, which actually makes a lot of sense when we think about how most health issues are not a result of being ‘overfat’ but rather being under muscled.
In fact, building muscle alone, without doing anything else, even without losing weight, is a game changer for most people and a key factor in controlling diabetes, reducing insulin resistance, increasing metabolism (how many calories you burn just sitting, doing nothing), reducing dementia and Alzheimer’s, CVD, and overall longevity. All, nothing to sneeze about!
As more of our population ages, something called Sarcopenia is, unfortunately, becoming a common diagnosis. Sarcopenia is a significant loss of muscle mass.
I think we all know that after a certain age, it’s more difficult to maintain and put muscle back, once we lose it. And it’s not so much the bulky muscle (the beach body muscles) that we need to be concerned about, although a bit of that is helpful, it’s more the postural muscles. The muscles that allow us to move from a seated to standing position and propel us forward,. Muscles we desperately need in order to maintain a good quality of life, something we need to put front and center and preserve. So let’s talk about how we can preserve and build muscle.
I think all of us know that lifting weights (something I’m not so fond of) will build muscle faster than anything else and yoga and stretching will help to keep our ligaments and muscles loose and supple and reduce injury but what about diet?
As it turns out, diet plays a significant role in the ability to retain and build muscle, especially in our senior years. And that’s the focus of this post.
As we age, our caloric needs lessen-partly because we’re not moving as much as we did in our 20’s and 30’s and partly due to sporting less muscle mass, which means a lowered metabolism. So we need to make sure that we’re getting enough daily protein even though our caloric intake is less or should be less.
So how much protein is enough? Well, according to Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, who’s a geriatrician, we need a minimum of 30 grams of protein/meal or about 100 grams of protein a day. The current RDA recommendation is less than half of that..
Why? We need to remember that the RDA’s are levels established to prevent disease NOT for optimal health. And these amounts are also not taking into consideration an elderly population. These are two super important distinctions.
So for optimal health, a minimum of 1.0 grams of protein/1 lb. of body weight is needed to maintain and build muscle mass; keeping us upright into our senior years and metabolically fit. Again, that’s about double the RDA recommendation which is only about .4 grams/pound! Big difference!
Do you have any idea how much protein you’re consuming? If you’re over the age of 60, you need to know. Below is a quick snapshot of a few sources of protein to help get you started.
4 oz of chicken/fish/red meat = 35 grams
2 cups of beans = 30 grams
4 oz tofu = 22 grams
Now that we’ve established how much protein we need a day and why, we need to talk about what a protein is and plant vs animal protein. There’s a difference.
A protein is a string of amino acids (AA’s). But not all proteins are created equal and not all AA are the same. Animal proteins are considered complete proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids necessary for our bodies to make other amino acids and proteins. We can obtain all these essential amino acids from plants when we combine different plant proteins but there are a couple limiting factors we can run into..
- Plant proteins are less bioavailable than protein obtained from animals by 10-20%. That means 30 grams of protein from plants may only have a net value of 20 grams of usable/digestible protein in comparison to 30 grams if derived from an animal source. Something else to consider is that as we age, our digestion becomes less efficient at breaking down and absorbing our food so we can benefit even more from highly bioavailable animal sources vs plant sources.
- There’s a limiting amino acid called leucine in plants. And leucine is key in stimulating protein synthesis, muscle mass and modulating insulin (aka blood sugar regulation).
The recommended amount of Leucine per day is about 8-9 grams. The best sources of this AA are lean beef, skinless chicken and tuna.
While it’s not impossible to get adequate amounts of protein and this essential amino acid from strictly plant sources, it poses a challenge and most likely will result in consuming more calories and carbohydrates than you need or is beneficial.
You’ll have a much better chance of obtaining adequate protein and leucine if you are vegetarian and/or pescatarian and even better if eating chicken and red meat (both preferably sustainably and humanely raised) at least a few times a week.
I invite you to take a look at your protein intake and grams of leucine to determine if you need to make some adjustments. This is important! If you’d like some help, please schedule an Introductory Strategy Call with me.
I’d also like to invite you to track your body composition. It’s the best way to see if you’re sporting enough muscle and determine if you’re maybe carrying a little too much fat, even if your weight is looking good. Remember that the majority of folks over the age of 65 are under muscled and this predicts our quality of life as well as longevity. So let’s start tracking!
I recommend purchasing a fairly inexpensive home scale that tracks many important body composition measurements: including weight, visceral fat, muscle mass, % body fat, and bone mass and more. And it’s been an eye opener and motivator for many of my clients in a really good way! This Tanita model is the one I like and can be purchased by
. Maybe it’s time to find out what you’re made of!
Also, download this very useful Body Composition Tracking Chart to start tracking your progress by clicking here.
Live Long and Well,