The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Nutrition to Maintain Your Muscle Mass!

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Eat better

Thursday, Sep 24, 2015


An unfortunate effect of aging is a decline in many of our functional capabilities. One such decline is a loss of muscle mass and strength. This decline not only affects our ability to function physically in everyday life, but is also a major risk for falls and subsequent disability. The good news is that while this decline is inevitable, we can slow the rate of decline. The best approach (as mentioned in a previous blog)—exercise (surprise, surprise), with resistance training being most effective.


There are other factors that affect the rate of muscle loss such as nutrition, genetics, trauma, hormones, and neuromuscular dysfunction. The International Osteoporosis Foundation Nutrition Working Group reviewed a number of studies that looked at both the nutritional factors that contribute to loss of muscle mass, as well as those that are beneficial to its maintenance (1). Here are their major findings and suggestions:

  • Protein: The group suggests that older adults should consume .45-.55 g/lb of body weight per day, which is higher than the suggested intake for their younger counterparts (0.36 g/lb of body weight per day). The reason for this increased requirement is due to number of factors. Older adults tend to have a decreased ability to digest protein due to a decline in digestive enzymes. In addition, their muscle cells are less responsive to the hormones that allow for protein uptake. Lastly, the increased requirement is to account for the decline in mass, as more is needed in order to replace the muscle that is being lost.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D has been shown to play an integral part in a number of processes in the body, some of which include bone growth, immune function, inflammation reduction, and the development and preservation of muscle mass and function. Because there are limited food sources of vitamin D, older adults should have adequate exposure to sunlight, as vitamin D synthesis is stimulated in the skin by ultraviolet light. Because the RDA for vitamin D is higher for those ages 70 and older, supplementation is often necessary to ensure adequate intake.
  • Avoid dietary acid loads: This is probably something that you may not have heard of before, but the review found that excess intake of acid-producing nutrients (meat and cereal grains) in combination with low intake of alkalizing fruits and vegetables may have negative effects on musculoskeletal health. Modifying the diet to include more fruits and vegetables is likely to benefit both bones and muscles.
  • Vitamin B12 and folic acid: Recent evidence indicates that vitamins B12 and folic acid play a role in proper muscle function. Vitamin B12 can be obtained through animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Because it is bound to the protein in these foods, older adults are often deficient in vitamin B12 because of their decreased ability to digest protein. Supplementation is often needed.  Good dietary sources of folic acid include dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, and citrus fruits.
Therefore, we should all engage in physical activity and follow the above dietary recommendations in order to help conserve muscle mass. It’s never too soon to start. Any guess as to when the decline in muscle mass begins for most individuals? As early as ages 30-39! Yikes!

Learn more about age-related conditions, nutrition, and activities for this population in our next Older Adults course, beginning September 30. You need not be a health and fitness professional to attend; everyone is welcome!


1.  A. Mithal, J.-P. Bonjour, S. Boonen, P. Burckhardt, H. Degens, G. Hajj Fuleihan, R. Josse, P. Lips, J. Morales Torres, R. Rizzoli, N. Yoshimura, D. A. Wahl, C. Cooper, B. Dawson-Hughes. Impact of nutrition on muscle mass, strength, and performance in older adults. Osteoporosis International, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s00198-012-2236-y