After you hit age 50, you can lose up to 1 percent of your muscle mass each year. And this type of age-related loss of muscle mass—known as sarcopenia—contributes to the development of disability, frailty, and metabolic disorders. It even increases your risk of death.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help maintain muscle mass as you get older. In fact, a new study found that upping your intake of one basic nutrient can do just that!
I’ll tell you all about that new study in a moment. But first, let’s go over some other basic steps you can take to build muscle mass as you age…
Well-established ways to maintain muscle mass as you get older
There are three basic and well-established steps you can take to build and maintain muscle mass as you get older…
First and foremost, make sure you eat plenty of protein daily. After all, protein is the basic building block of muscle tissue. Your body also uses it to repair damaged tissue.
Unfortunately, as I often report, many Americans don’t eat nearly enough protein to maintain muscle mass as they age. To make matters worse, the U.S. government’s recommendations for daily protein intake are about half of what studies show you actually need!
In fact, researchers have found that men who want to maintain muscle mass in their 50s and older should eat six ounces of meat (just over one-third of a pound) in a single serving.
Basically, you want to make sure to include a full, fist-sized serving of protein with every meal. So, perhaps go for a few eggs with breakfast, a salad with some wild-caught fish broiled in lemon and butter for lunch, and a grilled, grass-fed steak with roasted vegetables for dinner.
And remember…meat and seafood (but not plants) provide complete proteins, containing all the amino acids that your body needs to build muscle and run metabolism. These foods also contain bioavailable minerals like calcium, magnesium, and selenium, which each play a critical role in muscle mass and function.
(People with kidney disease should watch their protein intake, as I explained in the March 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter [“The deadly disease often ignored by modern medicine”]. Sometimes, people with kidney disease can have problems filtering out phosphorus, an electrolyte commonly higher in many protein-rich foods.)
The second established way to build and maintain muscle as you get older is to engage in some light-to-moderate exercise every week. But remember, don’t overdo it. Most studies suggest that you only need to exercise for about 140 to 150 minutes total per week. And activities like housework and yardwork count toward that total. Plus, unlike pounding away on a treadmill, light-to-moderate activities—like walking, swimming, hiking, and gardening—activate and engage a variety of muscle groups.
My third basic recommendation is to avoid taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. These toxic drugs damage your muscles, organs, and mitochondria (your cells’ energy factories). Plus, new research even links them to osteoporosis, as I recently reported.
And now, thanks to this new study, we know there is a fourth thing you can do to support your muscles as you age…eat more fruits and vegetables!
Build muscle by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet
For the new study, researchers investigated the link between dietary intake of vitamin C and muscle mass in more than 13,000 European men and women ages 42 to 82 years.
First, they asked the participants to complete a seven-day food diary, which they then used to estimate vitamin C intake. Second, they measured the participants’ vitamin C levels through blood samples, which is far more accurate than just relying on dietary questionnaires and food surveys. Third, they calculated the participants’ skeletal muscle mass.
Of course, there were many reasons the researchers focused on vitamin C intake…
For one, vitamin C helps protect against free radical damage to your cells and tissues. And your muscles, by weight, make up the largest tissue in the body after the skin. (Or, at least, they should.) Plus, since vitamin C is “water-soluble,” you cannot store it in your tissues as you do with other “fat-soluble” nutrients, like vitamins A and D. So you must replenish it daily through your diet.
Well, it turns out, nearly 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women in the study did not even consume as much vitamin C as recommended by the European Food Safety Agency. (Remember, the study took place in Europe.) Specifically, dietary intakes for men ranged from as low as 26 mg/day to as high as 215 mg/day. For women, it ranged from as low as 30 mg/day to as high as 215 mg/day.
And when it came to blood level testing, 1 percent of men and 0.2 percent of women had outright “deficient” levels—with less than 11 micromole/L (mmol/L). In the U.S., those numbers run much higher. Studies have found that 14 percent of U.S. men and 10 percent of women of similar ages are outright deficient. But, fully 38 percent of men and 17 percent of women had “insufficient” levels—with 11 to 49 mmol/L.
So, how did dietary intake and blood levels of vitamin C impact muscle mass? Well, let’s take a look…
More C equates to stronger muscles
The researchers found a very strong association between vitamin C intake/blood levels and muscle mass. In fact, men and women with the highest amounts of C in their diet or their blood had the greatest skeletal muscle mass compared to those with the lowest amounts.
Plus—the participants didn’t even need mega-doses of vitamin C to gain significant protection. The researchers estimated that eating just one citrus fruit, such as an orange, each day and having a vegetable side to a meal will be enough to help protect most people against age-related muscle loss.
Of course, I never recommend adopting the bare minimums. Instead, aim for achieving optimal health and muscle strength by eating six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Some of my favorite foods rich in vitamin C include: berries, grapefruits, hot peppers, oranges, and sweet peppers.
And don’t forget to support your protein intake by regularly consuming full-fat dairy, grass-fed and -finished meat, and wild-caught fish and seafood as part of your balanced, Mediterranean-type diet.
In the end, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet as you get older is critical for maintaining muscle mass…and for fighting off disease!
To learn more about simple, natural strategies to stay vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s—and beyond—I encourage you to check out my protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” For more information about this unique online learning tool, or to enroll today, simply click here.
“Lower Dietary and Circulating Vitamin C in Middle- and Older-Aged Men and Women Are Associated with Lower Estimated Skeletal Muscle Mass.” The Journal of Nutrition, 2020; 150(10): 2789–2798. doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa221
“Vitamin C Deficiency and Depletion in the United States: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988 to 1994.” Am J Public Health. 2004 May; 94(5): 870–875. doi.org/10.2105/ajph.94.5.870
“Dose-dependent responses of myofibrillar protein synthesis with beef ingestion are enhanced with resistance exercise in middle-aged men.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2012; : 120. doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2012-0092.