Muscle mass is the key to longevity, i.e., living as long as we live with good posture, healthy and efficient muscles.
As such, increasing muscle mass means that our fibres will be stimulated, and muscle will take the place of fat. This is to clarify that it is not about your muscles getting bigger like those of a bodybuilder, but, rather, about your muscles becoming leaner and working efficiently.
Once you reach the age of 40, you can lose up to 1% muscle mass per year, which would correspond to an average 2% loss of overall physical strength.
As you get older, if you are not active, your physical abilities deteriorate, and you lose confidence in your mobility. As the years go by, you lose your independence, and no one would like to get into that situation.
The 3 Pillars for Developing Lean and Highly Efficient Muscles for Many Years to Come
- Adequate Daily Intake of Complete Protein.
First, consume enough protein to supply and maintain the balance of amino acids in your body. Expert opinions vary on daily protein intake ranges, but let's say, for a normal, moderately active person, 1-1.2 grams of complete protein per kilogram of body weight keeps you on the safe side.
Athletes and older people can benefit from up to 1.6 grams per kg of body weight as they require more for different reasons: the former because they expend a lot and the latter because, with age, protein absorption sometimes becomes more difficult.
- The Muscle Stimulant
To obtain and maintain muscle mass and strength, aerobic exercise or cardiovascular training and strength training must be included. Sedentary lifestyles, as the confinements during the pandemic showed us, are definitely the most damaging thing that can happen to the human body.
Declining muscle mass leads to sarcopenia, a type of muscle wasting (muscle atrophy) that occurs with ageing and/or immobility. It is characterised by the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality, and strength, as mentioned in my article on the type and amount of protein you need according to your age and activity rate.
- The Right Cycles of Rest and Training for Muscle Stimulation
In my article on types of rest, which I highly recommend, I mention some very important ones, but what is required in this case is passive rest to fully recover and repair the "damage" caused by strength training with weights.
You should also take into account the training cycles, which you can learn more about in my article on "How to regain your strength and muscle mass" where you will find a programme that I propose for 4-8 weeks.
There you will find how you should train each week in terms of volume and intensity, so take heart.
Learn About the Most Effective Nutritional Supplements for Supporting Muscle Development and Strength
This is an amino acid with anabolic properties, i.e. it helps to stimulate the development of your muscle mass. Amino acids in your body play an important role in the building, repair and development of muscle tissue.
Leucine is one of the 20 amino acids that make up proteins. Of these 20 amino acids, l-leucine is one of the three essential amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). They are called essential because the body cannot produce them on its own, so you must get them from the food you eat or from supplements.
The three BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are essential for protein synthesis or muscle hypertrophy and if you don't get enough of them, you'll struggle to recover from training.
What makes Leucine special is that, without this amino acid, there can be no muscle development. It tells your muscle fibres to use the protein and other amino acids you consume to build muscle.
When leucine levels in the blood rise, a signalling chain called mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) is activated. This mTOR pathway is responsible for telling your body to go into a growth or anabolic state.
Leucine can also help injured athletes not to lose muscle mass during their convalescence.
How Much Leucine is Recommended per Day?
A person weighing 60 kilos can benefit from 2.0 grams of leucine per day. However, more leucine does not mean more muscle, it seems that the body has a limit of absorption as indicated by a study published in 2014 where a group of men took different combinations of whey protein and a leucine supplement after strength training.
The results showed that ingesting 6.25 grams of whey protein supplemented with leucine was no more effective at promoting muscle growth than 25 grams of whey protein alone.
Who can Benefit from Leucine Supplementation?
If you do not eat animal protein, you need to consume enough complete protein to meet your daily leucine dosage needs through food alone. In general, you need 1-1.2 grams of complete protein per kilogram of body weight and perhaps a little more if you train or are a senior citizen. That's where supplementing with l-leucine, BCAAs or a protein powder would be helpful.
But vegetarians are not the only ones who may want to supplement with leucine. If you are intermittent fasting, or exercising on an empty stomach, you may need to increase your intake to get the full benefits of leucine.
Creatine is an aminoacid that your body can produce through your kidneys and liver after eating protein. Animal proteins, particularly red meat, and fish, contain creatine naturally, but you would need to eat immense amounts of each to reach the level that a creatine supplement can provide.
Creatine is used to store energy as a phosphate donor in the conversion of ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) to ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the type of energy that muscles require to perform their contractions.
Some people use creatine to improve their athletic performance because it allows them to produce energy quickly. If you run or lift weights, your muscles are strengthened during the repair period (sleep)significantly with the help of this supplement.
Vegans and vegetarians also seem to have a better reaction to creatine intake because their daily diet does not contain much creatine. However, according to Dr Eric Rawson, a professor at Messiah University of Pennsylvania, although creatine gives athletes a 2-4% boost in performance, no dietary supplement is comparable to proper training, sleep and good nutrition habits.
Another interesting finding is that increased movement of blood sugar into cells may contribute to data showing that creatine reduces fatigue and increases energy when given to participants in a study to counteract sleep deprivation.
New studies are also suggesting that creatine supplementation may improve cognitive processing, especially in situations characterised by brain creatine deficits, which may be induced by acute stressors (e.g. exercise, sleep deprivation) or by chronic pathological conditions (e.g. enzyme deficiencies in creatine synthesis, mild traumatic brain injury, ageing, Alzheimer's disease and depression).
The necessary concentration and supplementation protocol for creatine to have an effect on these conditions remains to be indicated.
Note: For muscle development, creatine monohydrate powder is usually preferred. Experiments on cognitive function were conducted with creatine phosphate.
Possible but Unsubstantiated Side Effects of Creatine.
Creatine has been extensively researched for quite a few years now and so far, no studies suggest that it is not a safe supplement.
However, everyone is different and there are anecdotal reports of kidney damage, blood sugar problems, muscle cramps, heart problems, dehydration and even diarrhoea, but none of these claims have been substantiated.
In any case, as creatine is excreted by the kidneys, people with kidney conditions may want to pass on this supplement.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Research has suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in promoting weight loss and muscle growth.
It appears that, for convalescing injured people, omega-3 fatty acids decrease possible muscle atrophy and may lead to earlier recovery from injury as demonstrated in a two-week experiment in which women in the study were given high doses of omega-3s.
Another meta-analysis published by the US National Library of Medicine notes that subgroup analyses of muscle mass and gait speed indicated that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation of more than 2 g/day may contribute to increased muscle mass (0.67 kg; 95% CI 0.16, 1.18) and improved gait speed, especially for those who received more than 6 months of intervention (1.78 m/sec; 95% CI 1.38, 2.17).
The studies are encouraging, and it is worth considering both the pillars to build and maintain your muscle mass, as well as supplements to help you strengthen and achieve this purpose.