building muscle

How does muscle building change as we age - guest post

Here's the funny thing about the interwebz.

Samantha Oliver, a personal trainer who lives across the pond in Britain, was riding the bus home one day and casually searching the hashtag #catsofinstagram on her phone. 

For those of you who read my site regularly, you're first thought here is "wait a second. You have cats?"

Yes. Sadly, as of yesterday, only one cat, as our 15 year-old yowly, curmudgeonly cat Cosmo passed away. 

Yes, there is a cat in my household. She tries to smother me in my sleep. 

Yes, there is a cat in my household. She tries to smother me in my sleep. 

I've posted about cats exactly twice in my intsagram career, but out of that post came a collaboration with Sam. 

Some people fight wholeheartedly to retain their youth, strength, and aesthetic beauty, and others welcome their old(er) age with positivity, serenity, and grace. However, no matter the category you occupy, one thing is for certain: your muscle-building potential changes drastically as you age, and no, it’s not okay to allow yourself to lose muscle mass.

We aren’t necessarily talking about aesthetics here so much as we are talking pure functionality, health, virility, and quality of life. Muscle is crucial in keeping you fit, able, strong, and healthy, especially as you approach your silver years. Here is how muscle-building changes as you age and what you can do to keep making gains and stay healthy.

The muscle building potential through the decades

And then, puberty struck. Your body began to change, your bones and muscles grew, and your muscle-building potential was through the roof. Fortunately, this continues well into your twenties and even into your thirties if you are genetically gifted.

However, for most people, once you hit that thirty threshold, things begin to change. As you move through your thirties and into your forties, the testosterone levels imperative for muscle growth (among numerous other bodily processes) gradually begin to decrease, making it increasingly difficult to build muscle and preserve a toned physique. This is why at this point proper nutrition and rigorous training becomes essential.

Have you heard of Sarcopenia?

So who, or rather what, is the main culprit orchestrating the demise of your hard-earned physique? Much like arthritis affects your cartilage and osteoporosis affects your bone density, a condition called sarcopenia affects your muscle mass and your muscle-building potential.

This degenerative condition associated with aging increases with time, and there isn’t much you can do about it except work hard at subduing its effects and work even harder towards building new muscle tissue despite its presence. And yes, it is doable.

Building or maintaining muscle mass

Needless to say, losing muscle mass should never be an option, especially as you approach senior status. While preserving an aesthetic physique is always a good way to nurture your confidence and self-esteem, you should mainly focus on building muscle and strength for the purpose of leading a healthy, vibrant, and energetic lifestyle.

Losing muscle mass can lead to numerous conditions down the road, and even injury, especially in the lower region. Hips, knees, shins, and your lower back all need adequate support, which is the primary role of your muscles. Lifting weights and maintaining cardiovascular endurance will also help keep your bones and connective tissue strong and healthy.

Staying safe and tailoring your routine

However, you can’t expect to run the same training program as you did twenty years ago. Not only will you gain less, but you will also risk injuring yourself, perhaps indefinitely. You need to learn to listen to your body and tailor your training routine to fit your goals and your current capabilities. And then go ahead and build up from there.

One of the most important things to remember is to stay safe no matter what. Safety should be your number one priority, so make sure you maintain proper form and wear protective gear and durable weightlifting clothes for support, comfort, and mobility. Remember to up your flexibility and mobility routines as you age as well, in order to decrease the risk of injury.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Finally, you want to use these insights to tailor a healthy lifestyle routine entailing proper sleep, nutrition, and training. These are the essential constituents that form a foundation of a healthy future. Your goal should be to remain strong, vibrant, and most importantly, able to live out your entire life to the fullest. Sticking to regular exercise will help you do just that.

There are some things we can’t change in life no matter how hard we try, such as time itself catching up as we age. However, we can influence the way old age treats us, whether it will be kind or cruel. Be sure to use these powerful insights to pave the road to a lifetime of strength, vibrancy, and health.

Samantha Oliver

Samantha Oliver

Knowledge bomb dropped. Boom.

Samantha has a B.Sc. in nutrition and has spent two years working as a personal trainer. Since then, she has embarked on a mission to conquer the blogosphere. When not in the gym or on the track, you can find her on Twitter, or in a tea shop.

Nutrition 101 - Understanding Macronutrients

I don’t know if this is a Western Pennsylvania thing, but for the sake of efficiency, we drop the “what” when asking a question:

"Hell you going?"

"Hell you doing?"

You can find this screen on MyFitnessPal by clicking on your calories. From there you have the option of viewing calories, nutrients or macros. A good place to start is setting the goals you see to the right of the macros: 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fat. 

You can find this screen on MyFitnessPal by clicking on your calories. From there you have the option of viewing calories, nutrients or macros. A good place to start is setting the goals you see to the right of the macros: 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fat. 

"Hell you eating?"

It’s the eating part I want to focus on today. Specifically, macronutrieints.

"Hell is a macronutrient?" 

Glad you asked :) 

When clients begin to overhaul their diet, they download MyFitnessPal, set a calorie a limit and begin the laborious task of tracking nutrition. First of all, if you are tracking your food, you’re off to an excellent start. But as most of you know, it’s not just the number of calories but the type of calories that can make an impact on your health and nutrition. (I’m not talking only about fat loss here, even though that’s the focus for many. )

What I want you to do is click over to the screen in your MyFitnessPal that shows you a macronutrient breakdown. Click on your calories and you'll see a screen like the one to the right. See it? Ok, good. That’s where we start. 

What is a macronutrient?

“An essential nutrient that has a large minimal daily requirement.” 

There are three macros: protein, fat and carbohydrates. 

You’re familiar with all of them, and perhaps you’ve tried to go one route over the other. 

High protein! Paleo, yes! I'm in. Why do I have the meat sweats?? 

Low carb! I’m in! Yes, no carbs. Why am I so punchy? 

Low fat! That tastes awful! Forget it, I’m out. 

If you’re curious and like math, both protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram. 

A brief explanation of each:


Protein is the single most important macronutrient as it helps to build muscle, burn fat, boost recovery and immune health and improve digestion. The Precision Nutrition recommendation* for protein consumption for muscle gain is 135grams for a 180 pound man and 110 grams for a 150 pound woman. 

As I’ve written in the past, higher protein consumption promotes fat loss in part because it’s the most satiating macro - eat a serving of cottage cheese and then eat a serving of crackers and see which one fills you up more. When you’re satiated, you consume less calories over all. 

Protein also ensures that most of the weight you lose is actually fat, and when consumed after a workout, can help to build lean muscle.


We know carbs. We have friends who do low carb diets, we’ve done low carb diets (I’ve done low carb diets), we’ve seen the Atkins diet and watched people wrestle over a doughnut hole. 

Ok, that was me, wrestling Sheila for a doughnut hole when I was trying to go low carb. It wasn’t pretty. Also she won. 

As a result of many of these popular diets, carbs have become vilified.

They’re not. 

Carbs help ensure that our stress hormones stay low, that our thyroid functions well, that our sex hormones stay healthy and that we sleep and recover well. 

Have you ever tried to go super low carb? Like less than 10 grams per meal? I have. And I was an a***hole. And I wrestled Sheila, not just for a doughnut hole but a piece of baking chocolate. 

There’s science behind that. Low carb can elevate your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels which can affect your over all stress response, mood digestion and energy levels. 

One reason that low carb is appealing is the rapid weight loss that can happen. In the beginning you're primarily losing water and glycogen - but if you are going low carb, you’re probably increasing your protein - because those calories have to come from somewhere - so is it the decreased carbs or the increase in protein that’s helping your weight loss?


We know low fat. I’ve never been grocery shopping that low fat wasn’t an option; cottage cheese, milk, ice cream (that’s just wrong) - but the thinking was that consuming a lot of fat made you fat. 

Also that too much fat caused heart disease. 

Then you wondered how your great-grandfather lived to be 95 and ate bacon and eggs every day. 

Well, because nutrition isn't black and white. 

Without going too far down the rabbit hole on fats, it's important to understand that you need an appropriate amount of healthy fats. (We'll get to the healthy part in a second). The appropriate amount can help your cells to work properly, build a strong immune system, and even help provide some satiation between meals. 

Because we are only scratching the surface on macros in this post, I think what's most important to understand about fats, and all of the macros, is which sources are healthy fats. Nuts and seeds, whole foods like avocados, all natural peanut butter (yes, the kind with oil in it), and olive oil are just a few sources of healthy fats that you can incorporate into your diet.

In terms of a recommendation of how you much of any one macro you should consume in a day, it depends on your goals. As mentioned above regarding protein consumption, if you're looking to build more muscle, (or tone, which is a post for another day), then higher protein is a good place to start. But if you're just trying to get a handle on the types of calories to consume, the breakdown of the screen shot above is a place to start. 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, and 30 percent fats.


Now, next time you're in Western PA and someone asks you 

"Hell is a macro?"

You'll at least understand that they're asking you a question. :)

*I'm currently pursuing my Level One Coaching Certification from Precision Nutrition and much of this information comes from that program. Click on the PN link for infographics regarding meal prep, stress management, and sleep.