Why is building muscle so important and how do we do it?

Why is building muscle so important

Whether you want to bulk up or not, muscle mass is important for us all. It is important for our health, particularly as we age. It doesn’t mean you need to be a body builder or have to hit the gym to ‘bulk up’, but it does mean you should take action to try and stop the decline of muscle as you age. Research has shown that maintaining muscle strength is key to healthy ageing.[1]

Why is muscle so important?

Research shows clear benefits of muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness on healthy ageing. [2] When you think about it, muscles are involved in many essential functions such as posture, breathing, physical activity and even your heart pumping. Without muscles we couldn’t do our daily activities or weekend swimming, hikes or bike rides.

Maintaining strength reduces the risks of falls, allows you to stay active keeping your cardiovascular fitness up, assists with weight management and we know being active is also good for our mental health. Muscle is also more ‘active’ tissue than body fat. This means it burns more kilojoules than body fat, keeping your metabolic rate higher which can help with weight management.

During ageing, approximately 30 % of our peak muscle mass is lost by the age of 80, and this loss is exacerbated by physical inactivity and poor nutrition.2 The key is to keep active and eat well. Let’s now look at what we can eat to build and maintain muscle.

How do we build muscle?

The body is continually breaking down and rebuilding protein and to build muscle we want to do more making than breaking! You can read another Rokeby blog, ‘The Power of protein,’ for more information about how much protein you need for your age and activity level.

To build muscle we need to:

  • Be active using a wide range of muscle groups. If your aim is for muscle growth then seek advice from a qualified fitness professional for specific exercises to load muscles for muscle growth.
  • Aim for about 25-30g protein per meal to promote muscle growth. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that muscle growth was 25% higher when protein was evenly distributed across meals rather than loading it up during any one meal.[3]
  • Eat a snack or meal with protein and carbohydrate after exercise for the carbohydrate to replace muscle fuel stores and to spare the protein to build and repair muscle. You can read more about recovery with the Sports Dietitians Australia fact sheets.[4]
  • Keep your energy intake up as if you are not eating enough you will lose weight and some of that weight is likely to be muscle.
  • Be cautious of rapid weight loss, this is likely to involve loss of some muscle mass which can be difficult to regain. Gradual weight loss if this is desired, together with exercise and sufficient protein intake can help reduce the proportion of muscle mass lost.
  • Eat protein spread out over the day, rather than the focus generally being on the evening meal only. Think breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

Ideas for getting your protein in

  • Breakfast: backed beans on wholemeal toast or Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomato on toast
  • Snack (or breakfast): Rokeby Farms Probiotic yoghurt bowl with muesli and fruit, Rokeby Farms Protein Smoothies, Nut spread on dry biscuits with sliced banana or apple
  • Lunch: Egg omelette with lots of veg and cheese, chicken and salad sandwich, lentil soup
  • Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognese, Lean meat or fish, with vegetables and roasted potatoes

It is important to be realistic with your muscle gain goals. There are a whole lot of factors involved; genetics, age, health, training and of course nutrition.

You can grab a copy of Simone’s book, Eat Like An Athlete and speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian or Accredited Sports Dietitian for more evidence based nutrition advice.

[1] McLeod M, Breen L, Hamilton DL, Philp A. Live strong and prosper: the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing. Biogerontology. 2016;17(3):497-510. doi:10.1007/s10522-015-9631-7
[2] Topinkova E (2008) Aging, disability and frailty Annals of nutrition & metabolism 52 Suppl 1:6-11 doi: 10.1159/000115340
[3] Norton LE, Wilson GJ, Moulton CJ, Layman DK. Meal Distribution of Dietary Protein and Leucine Influences Long-Term Muscle Mass and Body Composition in Adult Rats. J Nutr. 2017 Feb;147(2):195-201. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.231779. Epub 2016 Nov 30. PMID: 27903833.
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