Making the Cut: Protein Builds Muscle

If you’re feeling less like Popeye and more like Wimpy lately, the cause might be sarcopenia. Not Just for Athletes Around middle age, muscle mass begins to decline, and frailty (known as sarcopenia) may result. To combat it, consume sufficient protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells. One-third of adults over 60 don’t get enough protein, according to some estimates. In addition, those who exercise regularly need protein to maintain muscle mass and for postworkout repair and recovery. How important is it to get enough? If daily intake is too low, the body acquires amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from your muscles. Multiply your weight by 0.4 for an estimate of your daily protein requirements. For athletes, a rule of thumb is about 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight per day. Why Supplement? While getting protein via a balanced diet is recommended, some people don’t eat animal proteins; others want to avoid the saturated fat and cholesterol found in some protein sources; and still others like the convenience and concentration of protein powders, which are often fortified with additional nutrients. If you’re aiming to build or maintain muscle mass, protein powders can be mixed into smoothies or other drinks. Whey protein from milk is easily digestible (unless you have a milk allergy or sensitivity) and is a popular supplement for building muscle strength as well as for suppressing appetite. Mixable protein is also derived from eggs and a number of plant sources. Vegan Options For those who don’t consume animal products, protein powders made from peas, hemp, rice, and soy are available. Hemp protein powder, for example, is a plant source of complete protein, meaning it contains the right number and balance of essential amino acids. It also offers a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Or consider vegan blends, which may combine ingredients such as brown rice protein, cranberry protein, and hemp seed protein. After you’ve selected the nutritional profile and ingredients you prefer, look for other signs of quality and purity. (See the glossary for more details.) Then taste-test products to find your favorite. Some people mix their powder with water and drink as is; others add it to smoothies with yogurt or juice. Toss in bananas, berries, cinnamon, or other healthy treats! Pump Some Iron While diet and nutrients can help prevent and even reverse muscle loss, weight training builds muscle by forcing your body to heal damaged muscle cells created by your efforts. Especially beneficial for older people, lifting weights improves stamina, balance, and coordination as well as vigor. Diet Friendly Sure, protein builds muscles, but it also helps regulate appetite and, according to research, plays a part in managing weight. Glossary Grass-fed: This term is sometimes seen on whey products. Grass-fed cows have up to 500 percent more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in their milk than grain-fed cows. In whey powder, CLA is a potent antioxidant and helps support healthy weight, immune function, and normal insulin and cholesterol levels. NonGMO: In North America, more than 80 percent of our food contains genetically modified or engineered ingredients, often called GMOs. Many consumers in the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, and other nations are demanding nonGMO food. USDA Organic standards ban GMO ingredients, and some products are certified by the Non-GMO Project. Organic: Foods and other products produced without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides, fertilizers containing synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Raw: Food that has not been heated about 118ºF is referred to as raw food. Proponents of a raw diet believe that heat destroys many of the nutrients and enzymes in food, making it less nutritious and harder to digest.

More from Nutrition 101