The only reason I have titled this article as; ‘building muscle after 40’ is because I am now well past the age of 40 (44 at time of writing. I know, I know – I don’t look it!).
Anyway, I wanted to ensure my efforts and yours, if you are also concerned about the ability to increase muscle mass due to being a certain age, are not going to waste.
After lots of research and my own personal experience, the good news is, being aged 40+, 50+, 60+ or even 70+ is largely irrelevant regarding your ability to build muscle.
As this article will explain, muscle can be built at any age as long as you eat nutritious food and continually train your body to stimulate muscle growth, i.e. lift heavy things.
- 1 Myth #1: You will lose 1% of your muscle mass every year after age 40
- 2 Myth #2 You become increasingly weaker as you grow older (like after 40!)
- 3 Myth #3: Testosterone levels reduce as you get older which lessens your ability to put on muscle
- 4 A Different Approach to Training as You Grow Older
- 5 Conclusion
Unfortunately there is so much mis-information out there, it can become very confusing as to what the best training routine is, and what nutrition advice to follow when you hit your 40’s and beyond.
First of all let’s eliminate some of the myths that you may have heard about, regarding muscle building and aging:
Myth #1: You will lose 1% of your muscle mass every year after age 40
How many times have you read headlines and studies similar to this? It’s as if by the time you reach 65 you’re going to look like a shriveled up prune!
Sure you will lose muscle mass if you stop exercising altogether, that’s just a natural process of aging. As the saying goes “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”.
It is a condition known as ‘sarcopenia’ which delightfully means “poverty of flesh” a condition when muscles simple waste away due to inactivity.
But as long as you continue to eat healthily and lift weights, you certainly don’t have to lose muscle, and there’s no reason (or evidence) to suggest you can’t continue to build new muscle.
A study of 40 recreational athletes aged 40 to 81 years old, conducted by the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, at the University of Pittsburgh found that lean muscle mass and strength did not decrease with age.
It was suggested that chronic disuse, or ‘muscle atrophy’, were the cause of losing muscle mass, and not due to muscle aging.
Participants in their 70’s and 80’s had almost as much thigh muscle as those in their 40’s.
They also remained strong.
Leg muscle strength did declined in men and women at around 60, however, further strength loss into their 70’s and 80’s were minor, with some 80 year olds being as strong as their 60 year old counterparts.
Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon who over saw the research said:
“We think these are very encouraging results. They suggest strongly that people don’t have to lose muscle mass and function as they grow older”.
The changes that we’ve assumed were due to aging and therefore were unstoppable seem actually to be caused by inactivity. And that can be changed.”
In my gym there’s a guy in his 70’s that can still bench press more than me! (Although I’m not sure whether that says more about me than him!)
His physique is amazing and he just looks strong. He lifts weights 3 times a week and has the odd swim in between.
He isn’t some one-off freak with extra special genetics that make him that way, he has just chosen to continue with his resistance training as he’s gotten older.
Myth #2 You become increasingly weaker as you grow older (like after 40!)
As the above study and my senior friend in the gym can testify, as long as you keep working-out, your strength will not deteriorate significantly.
Certainly not enough to stop you from building muscle mass.
I for one, am stronger now, and can lift heavier than when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.
Myth #3: Testosterone levels reduce as you get older which lessens your ability to put on muscle
Testosterone is an important growth hormone we need to keep building lean muscle.
It has long been thought we lose a certain amount of testosterone every year after age 40.
Recently I’ve read it is anything from 0.3% to 1.5% per year.
However, it’s virtually impossible to find any credible study or evidence to suggest the loss of testosterone is directly related to aging.
Not only is there no evidence to suggest getting older causes lower testosterone, there is actual scientific research that show no relation between testosterone and aging.
A study conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney concluded that:
“A decline in testosterone levels as men grow older is likely the result – not the cause – of deteriorating general health” reports principal investigator David Handelsman, MD, PhD, professor and director of the ANZAC Research Institute.
The study involving 325 men with an average age of 60 revealed that ‘aging’ had no effect on testosterone levels in older, healthy men.
Lower testosterone levels in older men are the result of “nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue and low sexual desire, which may be due to symptomatic disorders that accumulate during aging, including obesity and heart disease,” Dr Handelman said. “It does not appear to be a hormone deficiency state.”
So unless you have specific medical conditions, your T-levels, should be perfectly normal, and working efficiently to help produce muscle into your later years.
Another anti-muscle building excuse to tick off the list!
A Different Approach to Training as You Grow Older
Now we know that muscle can still be built well into our later years.
However, the way we build this muscle as we grow older has to similarly evolve.
You can’t expect to work-out like a 20 year old, even if you think you still can! By trying to do so, you will risk injury, and ‘burn-out’ very quickly.
Here is how you can reap the greatest benefits:
Resistance Training: Lifting heavy weights with low reps will ALWAYS be the number 1 method for increasing muscle mass – at any age.
Just 2 or 3 full-body workouts a week is enough to see results and build muscle.
Protecting Your Muscles: This goes for any age, but more so as we pass 40 and beyond.
Ensure you spend a good 5 to 10 minutes warming your muscles and raising your heart beat before you start resistance training.
Lifting weights with cold muscles can lead to rips and tears which can take months to repair. The same applies to warming down.
Likewise, stretching your muscles and increasing your flexibility plays a vital role as we age. By stretching your muscles you will improve the range of motion they can move through.
Studies by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have shown that strength gains can be significantly improved when muscles are lengthened through stretching.
Perform stretches after your workout when your muscles are nice and warm.
Reduce Your Cardio: Do less cardio in order to preserve your hard gained muscle.
The dangers of lengthy cardio sessions are exasperated as we get older. Not only can it lead to health problems but it will strip you of muscle mass.
Recovery: The need for enough recovery time between workouts becomes more significant as we age.
Our ability to grow new and greater muscle mass after we break it down through weight training remains the same; however, it does take a little longer for repair and growth to take place.
Our physical goals might take a little longer than 10 or 20 years ago.
Sleep: Ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
During sleep our body produces HGH (human growth hormone), which aids in developing muscle mass and bone growth.
Food: Lastly, but more importantly than any other, is the part nutrition plays in our ability to build muscle.
Protein is the building block to creating muscle and our ability to process protein doesn’t change as we grow older.
Ensure each meal contains protein, and eat some protein before you go to bed.
A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, organic meat (when possible), eggs and some nuts, will ensure you consume more than enough protein to build muscle.
Cut down as much as possible; sugar and processed foods.
These 2 evils will wreck your muscle building efforts and cause illness and disease.
Essential fatty acids in the form of omega-3 should be consumed regularly.
If you don’t eat enough oily fish through your diet, take a good quality fish oil supplement or add flaxseed to your daily diet.
Omega-3’s also aid in converting food protein to muscle protein.
If you are part of the over 40 gang or nearing that age, you can be happy in the knowledge that you can continue to build muscle and create a great looking body.
Not only that, but you can continue to do so well into your 60’s, 70’s and beyond!
Building muscle can also add years to your life and give you a good quality of life as you grow older.
People use age as an excuse to opt out of so many challenges.
Don’t be one of them.
Ninety nine times out of a hundred, doing anything challenging comes down to just one thing – your state of mind.
Drop your thoughts below.