Why Maintaining Muscle Gets Harder Over Time
Your body has a mix of "fast-twitch" and "slow-twitch" muscle fibers. As the names imply, these two types of muscle fibers help accomplish different types of actions. Fast-twitch muscle fibers contract rapidly and with more force but become exhausted more quickly. Slow-twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, contract more slowly and with less force than fast-twitch fibers but have greater endurance. Some movements rely on fast-twitch fibers for actions that need bursts of speed while calmer, more sustained motions make use of slow-twitch muscle fibers. As you age, both types of fibers tend to shrink in size and quantity, but more fast-twitch fibers are lost overall. As a result, you may feel your muscles lose strength as you get older.
How Muscle Recovery Occurs in Older Adults
During exercise, your body goes through a cycle of breaking down and rebuilding stronger muscles to increase strength over time. These processes of degradation of old tissues and formation of new tissues happen quickly in younger bodies. As you age, however, each step slows down and utilization of nutrients, such as protein, may not be as efficient. Incorporating strength training exercises within your routine in addition to good nutrition is important to support your muscle health and help improve longevity as you age.
Nutrition for Muscle Recovery
Just like you can't build a house without wood and nails, your body can't build muscle without the right nutrients. So, what materials are important for muscle building? In addition to strength training, these nutrients can help your muscles recover after exercise or while recovering from disuse:
- Protein forms part of the physical structure of every part of your body, including your muscles. Meat and fish, beans and legumes, cheese and yogurt, and nuts and nut butters are all good options.
- HMB, or β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate, is a small molecule found in the body after the amino acid leucine is metabolized. HMB has been shown to support healthy aging. In one study, HMB supplementation among older hospitalized adults was associated with increased handgrip strength and decreased risk of dying within 90 days. HMB occurs naturally in foods such as avocados and grapefruit but is easier to obtain and more plentiful in nutritional supplements that contain HMB and protein for muscle health.
- Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen, a protein that makes up the tendons that connect muscles to bones. Red and green bell peppers, orange juice, strawberries and cauliflower are excellent sources of vitamin C.
- Zinc is important for the synthesis of new cells, including muscle cells, and supports the function of muscle tissue. Excellent sources of zinc include beef, fortified breakfast cereals and pumpkin seeds.
Eating well takes effort, especially if you live alone. Sometimes shopping and cooking for yourself can feel like a chore. But if you think about the payoff of maintaining your independence and aging well, it may seem easier. If you're struggling to meet your nutritional needs, consider a high-quality nutritional supplement to fill in the gaps.