5 Ways to Maintain Muscle Mass

Muscle mass declines as you age, but you can prevent it

How to Maintain Your Muscle Mass so You Don't Lose It

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The human body has a naturally occurring amount of muscle mass determined by genetics, sex-based hormones, and age. You can train your body to increase the amount of muscle by doing physical activities that stimulate muscle growth and by consuming more calories than you burn to support new tissue.

However, once you gain new muscle tissue, you can lose it due to no longer being stimulated or if you eat fewer calories than you burn. The inherent muscle mass you have in your young adulthood will also decline as you age. Maintaining muscle as you age is vital for staying independent and functional in later life.

How to Maintain Muscle Mass

There are some steps you can take to maintain your muscle mass and prevent muscle loss. Exercise and diet are both important.

  1. Work out with weights regularly.
  2. Eat plenty of protein.
  3. Consume enough calories.
  4. Combine cardio and resistance training.
  5. Get enough rest and sleep.

Weight Train for Life

From around the age of 30, we start to lose muscle mass naturally very slowly. This age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, increases and becomes more apparent after age 40, with a 30 to 50% decline by age 80.

Reasons for this muscle loss are mixed, and the rate it occurs for you depends on several genetic and lifestyle factors. A reduction in sex hormones and lower physical activity levels in aging individuals are the primary culprits.

You can prevent, or at least slow, this natural state of loss by staying active. Work out with weights two to three times each week, exercising all your major muscle groups. Allow two days between workouts if possible.

Focus on Protein

Ensuring that you eat well and get the recommended amount of protein for your activity level will help maintain muscle as you age. You need at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, and up to 1.2 grams is better for those who are aging and aiming to maintain muscle mass.

To figure out the amount of protein you need, take your weight in pounds, and multiply it by 0.45. Multiply that number by 1.2 to get your recommended daily protein intake (in grams).

Protein is needed to build and maintain muscle since it is responsible for tissue growth and repair. Multiple studies show that high protein intake is vital for preserving muscle mass as you age and when you are dieting below maintenance calories.

Older individuals often undereat protein and can end up putting themselves at a higher risk of protein deficiency. Other factors include the possible reduced absorption of protein as you age due to decreased gut function and bacteria.

If you have a hard time meeting your protein needs, consider adding protein powder to boost your intake. Research suggests that elderly individuals can greatly benefit from protein supplementation to ensure they get enough to support muscle maintenance.

Get Enough Calories

Suppose you don't eat (and drink) sufficiently to maintain your body weight balanced with how much energy you expend in day-to-day living, including physical activity. In that case, you will lose muscle and probably bone. Paying attention to the overall calories you consume can help you maintain your muscle.

While eating sufficient protein is essential, and heavy trainers like athletes might need a little more protein than those mentioned above, eating enough overall calories is probably even more critical. Carbohydrates are essential for providing an anabolic (muscle building) stimulus in the body. If you don't get enough, you could lose muscle.

Refueling after exercise is also essential. Taking in some protein and carbohydrates within an hour of your workout and sufficiently beyond that to refuel will help to ensure muscle maintenance and even growth as you get an insulin spike.

If you're an athlete, you need to determine an ideal weight for your activity, keep a watch on the scales, and adjust your diet and exercise accordingly. Highly active people will require much more calories than those who are sedentary.

Train to Support Muscle

The type of training you do also plays a role in muscle maintenance. As discussed above, weight-bearing exercise is vital. While fantastic for general health and disease prevention, cardiovascular exercise will not go as far in protecting your muscle mass.

In fact, too much endurance exercise can lead to muscle loss as the body attempts to become lighter and more efficient to meet demands. However, adding resistance training to your cardio exercise routine and vice versa can improve your ability to maintain muscle.

The type of resistance training you do matters as well. Focusing on hypertrophy style training, which is the kind that helps build muscle mass, also helps prevent muscle loss, even if you are in a calorie deficit.

Lifting weights three or more times per week and training every body part at least twice a week is best. You'll need to add volume and progressively overload your muscles to continue seeing growth or maintain muscle.

Relax and Sleep Enough

Sleep is a time of rebuilding. Hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone set about rebuilding and repairing your body. Restful sleep helps with this process, so make sure you get it. Relaxation is important too since emotional stress will induce catabolic stress hormones, which means more destruction of muscle if you're not careful.

As well, sleep helps provide enough energy for your workouts and encourages better eating choices. Moreover, recovery time is necessary for proper muscle growth and maintenance.

In bodybuilding and weight training, people who don't naturally carry or easily enhance muscle are often called "hard gainers." This sounds a little derogatory, but it's more a statement of fact. People with a lean rather than solid natural build are categorized scientifically as ectomorphs.

The more muscled builds are mesomorphs. Those that carry more fat naturally might be endomorphs. But don't panic, there are many shades in between, and you are not destined to a life of a skinny ectomorph, although ectomorphs are probably never going to be Mr. Universe, steroids aside.

A Word From Verywell

Several factors determine how much muscle you have and how quickly and to what degree you lose it as you age. However, there are ways you can lower the risks of muscle loss by focusing on your diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits. Muscle is essential for aging in an active, independent, and healthy way. Your chances of high quality of life and pain-free aging are much better if you preserve muscle. If you are concerned about muscle loss, ask your doctor for more advice.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.