“Am I too old to build muscle?”. You may be asking yourself this question. We certainly get asked this question a lot by our prospective clients.
The answer is a resounding ‘NO!’.
I have to caveat that a little. If you’ve already been focused on building muscle then you may have reached your genetic potential. You’ll find gaining some extra will be more of a challenge. But if it’s never been a real focus, you’ve probably got some way to go in terms of your potential. With the right strategy you can build muscle at any age.
Yes, it’s harder as you get older. But, as you’ll see with some of our clients, it is not just possible but eminently achievable.
Why does muscle matter?
In summary, muscle helps:
- Recovery from chronic disease
- Fight obesity
- Prevent insulin resistance and diabetes
- Prevent osteoporosis
- Maintain good posture
- Maintain strength and functional ability
- Make you more attractive
For a more in depth look at the importance of muscle, take a look at our previous article.
Why is it harder to build muscle as you get older?
In my view there are 2 main reasons.
Your physiology changes
This one carries by far the most weight. Essentially, all the biological mechanisms for helping you build muscle simply become less effective. For example
- Your testosterone gradually declines. Testosterone is the number one anabolic hormone. As you get older you have less of it to help you build muscle.
- Insulin sensitivity declines. Insulin helps drive anabolic nutrients – protein and carbohydrate – into muscles and suppresses muscle breakdown. As you become less sensitive to it, so its efficacy declines.
- You can develop anabolic resistance. That means you respond less well to stimuli that help build muscle, such as the consuming protein.
The second and third can be largely overcome. Overcoming the first is more of a challenge but there are strategies to keep it as naturally high as possible.
You break more easily
Your body simply ages. Here’s a list of common complaints:
- Your posture deteriorates
- You develop aches and pains
- The quality of your muscles declines
- You become stiffer
- Your joints wear down
- You find there are movements that hurt or that you cannot perform.
These sorts of things start to affect your ability to train with sufficient intensity. You have to be a lot more aware of your limitations. But, as you might imagine, there are ways around these things.
I also think that you have less time on your hands as you get older. Well, at least until you retire or your kids have flown the nest. You have to put in sufficient time if you want to build muscle. You have to make time.
Three strategies for building muscle at any age
So how can you overcome the challenges brought about by ageing? You have to do the right things and be consistent about it. It doesn’t come nearly as easily as when you’re younger. So, you have to stay focused on the task and deviate from the guidelines as little as possible.
The overall approach boils down to three key activities: Eating, training and maintaining.
Let’s take a look at each of these.
Eat the right way
We’ve posted previously a more detailed scientific look at the right way to eat. That article contains a number of citations relating to the following points.
Here’s the summary:
- Get enough protein. Your body needs a certain amount just to maintain health. You need some extra if you want to build muscle. 125g for men and 100g for women would be a good guideline for optimal muscle building
- Spread protein intake out over several feeds. There’s a certain amount of protein above which you don’t stimulate any more muscle growth. That means if you’re having a massive protein hit once a day, you’re not maximising muscle growth potential. You’re better off getting the optimal amount several times a day.
- Get around 25g of protein per feed. Protein amounts above 20g per feed have been shown to optimally stimulate muscle building, but 25g is recommended. So, that means five feeds of 25g protein each for men, or four feeds of 25g protein each for women would be the optimal meal strategy.
- Supplement with leucine. Leucine is the amino acid that directly stimulates muscle synthesis. Supplementing a meal with leucine will ensure optimal muscle synthesis at each feed.
- Get enough carbohydrate. Carbohydrate gives you energy, increases insulin to drive nutrients into muscles, suppresses muscle breakdown and helps maintain the energy status of muscles cells, which is a factor for muscle synthesis.
- Get enough calories. You need a calorie deficit if you want to lose appreciable amounts of body fat, but too big a deficit will impact energy levels and, crucially, testosterone levels. If you’re trying to lose body fat at the same time then keep the calorie deficit moderate.
Train the right way
Let’s be clear. You cannot build muscle without giving the muscles sufficient stimulus to grow. You have to work them hard. Here’s how:
- Train with weights. Sure, there are other ways to work the muscles hard, but weight training is by far the best tool. One of the main reasons is its ability to increase testosterone levels at any age. Weight training becomes an even better tool as you get older. The variety of possible exercises and movements allows you to work around most of the challenges you might face as you get older.
- Work hard. You can’t just turn up at the gym and go through the motions. You need to work hard and you need to be prepared to grunt and grimace and puff your way through intense workouts. You’re going to need to stay fit so you can push your muscles to their limit.
- Train smarter. You’re not going to be able to keep lifting super heavy as you get older. Unless you’ve taken every step possible to keep your muscles, tendons and joints in pristine condition, and your posture perfect, you’re going to be more susceptible to injury. There are plenty of ways to stimulate your muscles intensely without needing to go super heavy.
Maintain your body in good working order
You can’t start looking after your body soon enough. If you’re reading this and you’re still young, then start maintaining now. If you’re older then become aware of your current limitations and either correct them or learn to work round them.
Weight training exerts large forces on muscle fibres, tendons and through joints. As you get older the quality of your muscles declines – you get more adhesions and trigger points, tendons become stiffer, joints become misaligned and you get wear and tear. But there are activities that can help keep you in decent enough working order to hugely reduce the risk of injury.
Here are some of the things you should be doing:
- Be posture aware. Understand what position your bones and joints should be in and notice when you deviate from that ideal position. Takes steps to improve your posture and movement. Strengthen weak muscles and lengthen tight muscles. When you move your joints, be aware of when they are moving out of alignment and correct it.
- Be pain aware. Watch out for niggles, work around them and then get them fixed. Is that pain just muscle burn or is it more sinister? Never work through pain by grinning and bearing it. Just stop and find another way to work the target muscle.
- Stop problems building up. Use a foam roller or deep tissue massage balls to get rid of trigger points and adhesions. Do it regularly, daily if necessary. Do it for 5 or 10 minutes as part of your warm up. Stretch after a workout. Don’t just beast your muscles and walk out – your muscles will repair tighter than before with lumps and bumps in them. Stretch the worked muscles and any muscles that are usually tight and that affect your posture.
- Use textbook form. Keep your technique tidy and pain free, adopting good posture throughout the movement. Don’t use exercises where you can’t get into the right shape. If your back rounds and your chest collapses when you squat, then don’t squat. Find another exercise.
The final point relating to your strategy for building muscle is that you have to be consistent. You’ll make good progress if you do the things listed above and do them consistently.
Proof of the pudding
We don’t often ‘big ourselves up’ in our blog posts but, on this occasion, we have to a little.
To show you that the above strategy is effective, I’d like to list some of the results achieved by our clients. Before I do, I want to point out what they all have in common
- All of them are 40 or above. The average is 48.
- They all worked their socks off in every session.
- All of them maintained their bodies in as good working order as possible. We worked around any pain or movement challenges.
- They all, broadly at least, followed the nutrition guidelines summarised above.
- Every one of them, without exception, gained muscle and lost body fat at the same time.
I’m not going to pretend that all our clients have been able to do this. They haven’t. Not all our clients are able to tick all the boxes of the above strategy. Some clients simply have too many issues to work around. Others start from a very low base of fitness and are not able to generate sufficient intensity within the programme timeframe. But those who can meet the strategy criteria invariably gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
Note that some of these clients are still with us and their identity remains confidential until they have given us permission to publish their results along with their name.
Here are the results
James Hogg, 52. Gained 1.7kg muscle, lost 13.2kg fat. Read his case study here but note that he has made further progress since then.
Ross Laurence, 41. Gained 3.2kg muscle, lost 24kg fat. Take a look at his full case study.
Sara Penrose, 42. Gained 0.5kg muscle at her peak, lost 8.8kg fat. She finished the programme up 0.3kg muscle. Read her story.
Dave Bray, 53. Gained 1.1kg muscle, lost 7.1kg fat. See how he did it here.
Mark Sherrocks, 58. Gained 2.5kg muscle, lost 2.5kg fat. His case study is imminent!
Male, 44. Gained 0.5kg muscle, lost 6.1kg fat
Male, 58. Gained 0.7kg muscle, lost 10.9kg fat.
Male, 46. Gained 1.2kg muscle, lost 0.2kg fat. Note that his goals did not include fat loss. He is 1.6kg heavier than when he started!
Male, 42. Gained 0.8kg muscle, lost 0.3kg fat in just 2 months. He has many more months to go.
Are you still asking yourself ‘Am I too old to build muscle?’? I hope I’ve convinced you that you’re not! Not only can you build muscle, but you can lose body fat at the same time. You just have to do the right things and be consistent.
If you’ve consigned your idea of building muscle to the scrapheap because you think you’re too old, then think again. Get out there and make a start. Get lifting, eat right, look after yourself and watch your body transform.