How to Prevent Muscle Loss with Nutrition

The second most common cause of muscle loss after aging is starvation dieting. If you struggle with your weight, you have probably been on a starvation diet at some point in your life. Any time you consume significantly fewer calories than your body needs — especially if those calories are low-calorie ones, coming from processed foods, starchy carbs, and sugars — you are on a starvation diet.

Starvation diets are popular because people believe in the calorie-deficit theory of weight loss. That is, if you eat a certain number of calories fewer than your body needs, you will lose a certain number of pounds. And it seems to work. You do lose weight on a starvation diet. But here’s the thing…almost none of the weight you lose comes from your fat stores.

That’s because your body needs a certain amount of fat to live. Your brain, digestive system, and hormones communicate with each other through a continuous feedback loop to maintain the level of fat your body “thinks” it should have. This is known as your setpoint weight.

When you go on a starvation diet, your body goes into a crisis mode. It is deprived of the nutrients and calories it needs to maintain your fat stores and keep you healthy. To protect itself, your body will burn as few calories as possible and store as many calories as possible as body fat.

Preventing Muscle Loss with Nutrition

Though many experts focus on weight-bearing exercise as a way of preventing muscle loss, there are many ways nutrition helps build and maintain muscle. In fact, diet is almost equal to exercise in building lean muscle.

Eat More Non-Starchy Vegetables, Especially Leafy Greens

Though nutrition and bodybuilding “experts” tend to focus on protein consumption as the main factor in building muscle, non-starchy vegetables are important, too. Studies show high-fiber, high-nutrient carbohydrates, such as non-starchy veggies, help to replenish glycogen muscle fibers after a vigorous workout.

Plus, non-starchy vegetables are loaded with specific nutrients your muscles need. For instance, leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, contain high amounts of magnesium, a nutrient that’s essential to muscle development. (Studies have found a correlation between muscle strength and levels of magnesium.) Green leafy vegetables also contain iron, a mineral essential for building muscle and strength. Green leafy vegetables, like other non-starchy veggies, also contain protein.

For help in preventing muscle loss, aim for eating at least 10 servings of non-starchy vegetables per day.

Eat More Non-Starchy Vegetables, Especially Leafy Greens

Boosting your protein intake is not just recommended for bodybuilders. In fact, studies show you should consume considerably more protein than the current recommended guidelines if your goal is preventing muscle loss.

One such study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism reported how different amounts of protein affected the muscular health of 20 healthy adults ages 52 to 75. It found those who doubled the recommended daily allowance of protein increased their rates of muscle protein synthesis, which is the way cells use protein to build muscle. They also improved the balance between muscle protein synthesis and protein breakdown.

To trigger muscle protein synthesis, try to consume about 30 grams of protein 3 times per day, at every main meal. Adding organic clean whey protein to a green smoothie is an excellent way to increase your protein intake. Studies show whey protein powder is uniquely beneficial. It increases weight loss, develops and preserves muscle, and provides many other health benefits.

Eat More Whole-Food Fats

Eating proper types of dietary fat is important for many bodily functions, including preventing muscle loss, albeit indirectly. You see, fat-soluble vitamins, such as A and D, need a certain amount of dietary fat to be absorbed into the intestine. Vitamin D is essential for muscle strength. (See below.)

For help in preventing muscle loss, try to eat 3-6 servings of whole food fats per day.

Get More Sunshine

Though vitamin D is known for building strong bones and teeth, it also builds strong muscle. Studies show increased levels of vitamin D may improve muscle strength. Other studies show a link between vitamin D deficiency and reduced muscle mass, falls, and muscle weakness.

There are few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Some of these foods include salmon, tuna, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks. Other foods, such as dairy products and orange juices, are fortified with vitamin D. However, it is difficult or impossible to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from food alone.

Your best bet for getting enough vitamin D is spending more time in the sunshine. (Make sure your skin is bared.) Sunlight hits cholesterol in your skin cells, sparking vitamin D synthesis, and it doesn’t take very long to do so on a sunny day!

12 Replies to “How to Prevent Muscle Loss with Nutrition”

  1. Barbara,

    I am new to your blog, and just loving it!

    I just wanted to mention a typo I see in today’s article on nutrition for retaining muscle – you have repeated the title about non-starchy vegetables twice and I think you meant the second one to be about eating proteins.?

    I am hoping to look back into your archives to see all your articles – you seem spot-on to what I have studied and understood on nutrition – you are doing a great job at communicating it – thanks for making it happen!

  2. I completely agree with your advice, but my problem is that I don’t know what, exactly, constitutes a “serving” of any particular food, and my scales indicate Ounces, not Grams. I am therefore at a loss as to how to to utilize your information.

  3. Nice info. Just curious about your background/ education. Big fan of Dr Permutter, I am.

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