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The New Year is upon us, and many of us are starting fresh with a renewed interest and desire to get healthy and be more physically fit. One part of that fitness equation is improved strength. Did you know that muscle is more difficult to build and maintain as we age? In fact many of us may start losing muscle around age 30, with an approximate 3-8 percent reduction in lean muscle mass every decade thereafter. This is due to lower testosterone levels in men and lower estrogen levels in women – both hormones need to help build muscle – as well as changes in nerve and blood cells and the body not efficiently converting amino acids to muscle tissue, among other factors. However, muscle loss is not inevitable. For both adult men and women, regular strength training exercises are key to building and maintaining muscle.
Men and women should engage in muscle strengthening activities that work the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulder and arms) at least two times per week. Strength training exercises include lifting weights, using resistance bands and doing push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. Everyday activities like carrying groceries, playing with your kids, working in the yard and shoveling snow can strengthen muscles, too. One important way to support strength building is good nutrition, including protein, carbohydrates and fat as well as adequate calories throughout the day.
When building and maintaining muscle, the more protein the better? Not necessarily. Research has shown that eating adequate protein not excessive protein is the key. A typical day’s intake for a sedentary adult might include 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy plus 4-6 ounces from protein foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish or beans. Keep in mind that this amount is an approximation and may vary with each individual. One ounce protein equivalents include 1 egg, ¼ cup cottage cheese, ¼ cup tuna, shredded cheese or loose meat such as ground beef/turkey, 1 string cheese stick or 2 tablespoons peanut butter.
Carbohydrates are also important for fueling muscles. The reason for this is that carbs are partially converted into glycogen, which gets stored in your muscles to provide energy for your workouts. Men and women who are strength-training at least two times/week need to include about half their calories from carbohydrates. That does not, however, mean you should load up on pizza, bagels, cakes and cookies. Choose good quality carbs that are also low in fat such as whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk/yogurt and fruits and vegetables.
Fats are also a necessary nutrient in your diet. For overall health and muscle strength, focus on heart-healthy fats (olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, avocado and fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines and trout). Because fats contain twice the number of calories as carbohydrates and protein, be sure to monitor portion sizes closely. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories and 1 ounce of walnuts (about 14 nuts) has 185 calories. Measure and count before you eat!
Have a Happy, Healthy New Year!!
To find out more information on how to start your year out healthy, contact your UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown dietitians at (641) 854-7530 or MT_dietitians@unitypoint.org.
Click here to find out more information about UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown’s Outpatient nutrition services.