From birth to about 30 years of age, our muscles grow larger and stronger. At some point in our 30s, our muscles start to atrophy and we begin to lose muscle mass and function. Everyone experiences some muscle loss, even people who enjoy active lifestyles. As we age, it takes longer to regain lost muscle. The extreme form of muscle deterioration is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is a factor in frailty and increases the likelihood of falls and fractures in the elderly.
Regular exercise and consuming ample calories and protein slows muscle loss. Building muscle requires a careful balance of all essential nutrients, including the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals). Getting a consistent, 30-gram dose of protein at mealtimes appears to be optimal for building and maintaining muscle mass. The amino acid leucine is particularly important for building muscle and arresting muscle atrophy. Dairy products, especially those high in whey protein, are excellent sources of leucine. Omega-3s help prevent muscle atrophy with their anti-inflammatory properties, and they also allow our bodies to use protein more efficiently. Getting adequate amounts of vitamin D helps with muscle protein synthesis and fights inflammation, which translates into better muscle strength and power.
Avoid high carbohydrate foods and eat five or six small meals to control insulin spikes. People who engage in regular exercise programs to gain muscle may need to increase fluid intake to prevent dehydration.