Three Ms for the Aging Power Athlete

Author / Hunter Waldman

5-7 min read

“What are you training for”? Anyone who has spent enough time in Power Athlete land will understand that this is a key concept for establishing a foundation upon which greatness can be built. While many clients will have specific goals such as, “…to lean out and gain muscle”, what about the athlete who is training simply to fight back against Father Time? Maybe just kicking life’s ass is your MO, but you’ve noticed recently that things are starting to feel a bit different. Not good or bad…just…different. You hit a certain age range and now, fighting back the “Dad Bod” takes everything you’ve got. We all know that physiological changes are taking place as we age, but truly understanding what those changes are, and how to address, them takes years of reading and guess-work to nail down the right equation. Luckily for you, I’ve done some of that reading and sifted through the research, to provide the hard-charging Power Athlete three M’s that will allow them to fight back against Father Time.

Metabolism – The M Under the Hood

Metabolism – Have you ever heard someone tell you that after age XX, your metabolism will start to “slow down”? Maybe you have even bought into this myth and repeated it to friends after they see your New Year weight-gain and ask if everything is okay. I mean, that extra fat around the waist and jawline could not simply be the mini-donut you grab every morning walking into the office. No, it is much easier to accept that you are simply aging and this is a result of a slower metabolism. Interestingly, this myth persisted until recently (2021), when Dr. Herman Pontzer and his team demonstrated that an individual’s metabolic rate remains consistent from ages 20 to 60 (1)! Yep, you read that right: your metabolism does NOT change much between ages 20-60. This was discovered after controlling for factors like body size, sex, and changes in muscle mass across those years. This is an important concept, because it removes the excuse of a slowing metabolism. If your metabolism is remaining consistent during those years, what factors may actually be playing a role from keeping you looking and performing at your best?

Muscle – The Foundational M

Without a doubt, the loss of muscle mass is one of the single greatest detriments to health and performance as we age. Starting around age 30, men and women will begin losing 3-5% of their hard earned muscle (2). I think of muscle as a metabolic sponge, in that it soaks up excess dietary fat and sugar and, in turn, creates a usable form of energy. This is not even taking into account the additional metabolic boost you get for every additional pound of muscle you add. Right now, the current thought is that we all will begin losing muscle mass starting between age 30-40 and the goal should be to peak muscle mass as much as possible before that decline begins. In a recent study, a group of researchers were able to pack on 2.9 lbs of muscle in a large group of older participants after a 6-month resistance training program with a protein shake consumed shortly afterwards (3). However, this same research team showed that those older participants could also lose 3.1 lbs of muscle in just 1-week of inactivity (4)!

What this tells us is: 1) anyone can add muscle and get stronger at any age, 2) as you age, you can lose 6+ months of progress from the weight-room in 1-week (which can easily happen if we sustain an injury), and 3) the best thing you can do to protect yourself from injury is to… add more muscle. If I’ve now convinced you that adding more muscle should be your new MO, good! In order for muscle to grow, a stimulus is required and thankfully, Power Athlete has a host of stimuli-inducing programs to pick from. But there’s another M that needs to be addressed that compliments Muscle.

Macros – The Sneaky M

Among the three macronutrients (i.e., lipids, carbohydrates, and protein), a special bond exists between protein and muscle mass. While I think most of us understand that protein is essential for muscle growth and maintenance, what is often ignored are how protein requirements and digestibility change as we age. One example is the recent concept of “anabolic resistance”. It appears that as we age, muscles respond less and less to ingested protein and more specifically, to the amino acid L-Leucine (5). This is made worse by the fact that your small intestines will actually absorb less amino acids from a given meal. Overall, this means that the 50 year old Power Athlete will need to ingest more protein at each meal, compared to when they were 20, just to get the same muscle protein stimulus. However, there are some practical tools you can use to overcome this and make the most of protein at each meal.

First, chew your food…thoroughly. Yep, Dr. Van Loon (an OG in protein research) demonstrated that when feeding people the same amount of protein from either ground beef or whole steak, more amino acids (~15%) appeared in the bloodstream from the ground beef meal compared to the steak (6). You absorb fewer amino acids as you age but it appears that thoroughly chewing your food can help you absorb more by increasing the surface area of your food for amino acid extraction in the gut. Second, and this is key, a muscle that just underwent resistance-training is more sensitive to taking up amino acids than an inactive muscle. Focusing on just getting more amino acids in the bloodstream is only half of the aging equation; getting those muscles to actually take in those amino acids is the other half. The research is pretty clear: if you pump weights beforehand, you will absorb more of what you just ate.

Making the Most of the Monster

Aging is an unavoidable part of this game called life. But, it doesn’t have to be the monster your elders made it out to be. There are hard-charging Power Athletes of all ages out there, cracking the bone and sucking the marrow out of life. Don’t let getting older be an excuse for failing to achieve your training goals, even if those goals are simply keeping back Father Time. The above M’s are just a starting point, but the most important place to begin is establishing a foundation. In a future article, I will explore another 3Ms: Mobility, Mitochondria and Mentality. If this article peaked your interest, Power Athlete HQ has a wealth of additional podcasts and articles that can quench any thirst for knowledge you might have. And if you want to take your knowledge to the next level, head on over to the Power Athlete Academy and sign up for the Power Athlete Methodology Course, to build a solid foundation of nutrition and knowledge that can help you empower your performance, and the performance of your athletes, regardless of age.

Related Content

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EDU: Power Athlete Methodology

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SOURCES

1. Pontzer, H., Yamada, Y., Sagayama, H., Ainslie, P. N., Andersen, L. F., Anderson, L. J., ... & IAEA DLW Database Consortium §. (2021). Daily energy expenditure through the human life course. Science, 373(6556), 808-812.

2. Volpi, E., Nazemi, R., & Fujita, S. (2004). Muscle tissue changes with aging. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 7(4), 405.

3. Tieland, M., Dirks, M. L., van der Zwaluw, N., Verdijk, L. B., Van De Rest, O., de Groot, L. C., & Van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein supplementation increases muscle mass gain during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in frail elderly people: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 13(8), 713-719.

4. Dirks, M. L., Wall, B. T., van de Valk, B., Holloway, T. M., Holloway, G. P., Chabowski, A., ... & van Loon, L. J. (2016). One week of bed rest leads to substantial muscle atrophy and induces whole-body insulin resistance in the absence of skeletal muscle lipid accumulation. Diabetes, 65(10), 2862-2875.

5. Paulussen, K. J., McKenna, C. F., Beals, J. W., Wilund, K. R., Salvador, A. F., & Burd, N. A. (2021). Anabolic resistance of muscle protein turnover comes in various shapes and sizes. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8, 615849.

6. Pennings, B., Groen, B. B., van Dijk, J. W., de Lange, A., Kiskini, A., Kuklinski, M., ... & Van Loon, L. J. (2013). Minced beef is more rapidly digested and absorbed than beef steak, resulting in greater postprandial protein retention in older men. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 98(1), 121-128.

AUTHOR

Hunter Waldman

Hunter Waldman is a former DII collegiate linebacker who found his passion in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology during his undergraduate years. After working as a Strength and Conditioning coach/personal trainer for several years, Hunter pursued his doctorate in Exercise Physiology while also serving as a Sweat Scientist for the Gatorade Sport Science Institute (GSSI) in Florida. Hunter is now a Professor of Exercise Science at the University of North Alabama, Researcher, Director of the Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory, and Power Athlete Block-1 Coach. Hunter's research area is in Nutrition and Metabolic Health/Performance, where his lab is attempting to understand how to increase cell stress resiliency via nutrition, supplements, and exercise.

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