I’m turning ‘mumble- mumble’ years old this summer. I eat well and walk, snowshoe and hike regularly, but I’ve lost some muscle over the last few years. My goal is to get stronger, so I decided to look into the research to see what helps build muscle.
Generally speaking, physical activity can be broken down into three main categories:
- Resistance training (also called strength training) keeps your muscles strong or makes them stronger
- Aerobic activities increase how well your heart and lungs deliver oxygen to your muscles
- Activities to maintain or improve your range of motion and flexibility
To build muscle, you need resistance training, which can also improve balance and help prevent bone loss. Common resistance training activities include using resistance bands, weights, your body weight, or doing heavy labour (such as lifting bags of mulch or moving soil in a wheelbarrow) to challenge your muscles and bones.
Adults of all ages need at least two resistance training sessions per week. In these sessions, focus on your large muscle groups (front and back of legs, chest, back, arms, and core) and do two sets of 10-12 repetitions for each muscle group.
How much resistance or weight should you use?
It’s a spectrum based on age, current fitness level and any medical conditions. A healthy, active 30 year old female will probably need to lift more than a 3 pound dumbbell to strengthen her arms. However, 3 pounds may be enough for an older adult who has health concerns and is just starting resistance activities. A good goal is to feel tired by the end of your set. If you do not feel tired, gradually increase the resistance or weight.
Does diet affect your ability to build muscle and strength?
Yes. Eating a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein-rich foods is foundational to good health and helps meet your nutritional needs. When it comes to building muscle and strength, a balanced and varied diet gives you the energy you need to be physically active and the protein you need for building muscle. Protein is the main building block of muscle, and most adults need two to three servings of meat and alternatives plus two to three servings of milk and alternatives each day to meet their protein needs. For an example of what this might look like, see Canada’s Eat Well Plate.
The 2015 Canadian Community Health Survey indicates that most adults get about 17 per cent of their energy from protein, which is within Health Canada’s guidelines of between 10-35 per cent of energy.
How does protein help build muscle?
In healthy muscle there is a constant balance between breaking down and building muscle. Resistance training signals to the muscle that it’s time to build muscle, and protein is the material used for building. Eating protein foods after resistance training means that your muscle’s building materials are available when they are needed. To help build muscle, most adults can aim to eat food with about 20 grams of protein within a few hours after resistance exercise. For more specific dietary advice based on your age, weight and other factors including medical conditions, speak to a registered dietitian.
Meals and snacks with about 20 grams of protein include:
- Smoothie made with milk or fortified soy beverage (250 mL or 1 cup), tofu (175 mL or ¾ cup) or Greek yogurt (175 mL or ¾ cup), and fruit
- 75 grams (2 ½ ounces) tuna on whole grain crackers and cut up vegetables
- 1 scoop of protein powder (check the Nutrition Facts Table) mixed into rice, almond or other plant beverage
- 75 grams (2 ½ ounces) firm compressed tofu cooked with stir fry vegetables
What about strength training if you have a medical condition?
Some people with health conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis can greatly benefit from strength training. Seek guidance from a qualified exercise professional to make sure the exercises you do are appropriate for your condition.
If you have health, diet or physical activity concerns or would just like the peace of mind knowing you’re doing things right, call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 and ask for a qualified exercise professional or registered dietitian.
Author’s Bio: Today’s blog was a collaborative effort between two of our regular writers; Normand Richard, a certified exercise physiologist and Catherine Atchison, a registered dietitian.