If your strength is declining, so is your expected lifespan1.
Let’s add some strategies to enhance both.
Why Muscle Is Important for Longevity
The stronger your musculature, the less likely you will fall and break something. For example, breaking a hip comes with a 14-58% death rate in the year after2.
Perhaps more importantly, muscles are glucose consumers. More muscles, better blood sugar. Better blood sugar, less chronic disease. Muscle cells can even consume glucose without requiring insulin during contraction. This leads to more efficient insulin usage. The more insulin sensitive and responsive we are, the less diabetes and chronic disease (read more about the troubles of too much insulin here). According to researcher Iñigo San Millán, Ph.D diabetes likely begins in skeletal muscle. Because, 80% of all glucose/carbohydrate we burn after a meal occurs in the skeletal muscle.
Yes, pumping iron will signal muscle growth. But, there is more to the story.
Our body’s major growth signal is called mTOR. When activated, a suite of systems are directed to be in growth mode. We activate mTOR with protein consumption and insulin secretion (pursuant to carbohydrates). Another term for growth mode is the anabolic state.
However, important details beyond just more growth signals exist.
Cycling Anabolic/Catabolic States
Just because we want more muscles for longer life doesn’t mean we want to be anabolic all the time. In fact, chronic mTOR activation leads to age-related muscular atrophy3. And guess what our society’s default status is. You guessed it, anabolic all day long.
Our foot on the anabolic gas pedal leads oxidative stress and breakdown in the muscles. So, when we eat the moment we get up until that last cookie before bed, the time for repair shrinks.
Catabolic, opposite of anabolic, allows for repair processes to take place. These are vital. You can shift to a more catabolic state by restricting protein and carbs, and running a calorie deficit. We must build in regular catabolic periods, or suffer the consequences described above.
Why When You Eat Matters
I wrote a detailed paper by this name, please have a look. Here are a couple principles.
Not Eating Is A Powerful Signal
Fasting, Intermittent Fasting, and time restricted feeding are all ways of avoiding calories to shift to a catabolic state. mTOR signaling recedes and amazing repair and rejuvenation processes can take place.
Another benefit with extended fasting is growth hormone (GH) levels build. GH essentially pools during times of fasting, readying for the next meal and the switch back to an anabolic state.
Maximizing Growth Signals
After a fast and exercise, we are in an excellent position to grow. That GH supply has grown. We have stressed the muscles, creating signals they are ready to grow and repair. Now, we can add a high protein meal after and crank up the mTOR signaling. Just like that, we have pointed multiple biological signals to muscle growth and metabolic health.
Protein from animals (grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic when possible) will do the trick to drive up mTOR signaling. However, we have some options to drive growth further.
Whey protein contains good amounts of an amino acid called leucine. Leucine is a potent mTOR activator. I use grass-fed Whey protein after my workouts. Choose grass fed, organic, cold processed (whey is heat sensitive).
Creatine is a component of internal energy metabolism. It is an excellent way to boost your workout and recovery. A study showed creatine particularly useful in aging or diseased muscle4. It is widely used and considered safe, especially at the normal 5 gram dose recommendation.
Do NOT take antioxidants around your workout and recovery period after. Our body communicates part of the beneficial effects of exercise through reactive oxygen species (ROS). Suppression of this oxidative stress with supplemental antioxidants can decrease the beneficial effects.
While not supplements, prescription cholesterol drugs called statins and diabetes drug metformin can hinder exercise performance. Read more about how to deprescribe statins and avoid diabetes here.
A primary longevity goal is increasing muscle mass. Here, we see that growing muscle is key, but to do so effectively, we must cycle between growth and recovery. Times of fasting are necessary – beyond just during sleep. Speaking of sleep, we produce growth hormone during the first part of sleep – read more about optimizing sleep here.
Fast, train, re-feed smartly with high protein and creatine. This is an excellent starting point to building more muscle.