When searching for how to change shape, I don’t think I’d be out of order to say that most people, and women especially, think about the fat they have, and how to lose it.
Men, and probably younger ones, are more inclined to think about muscle and how to build it.
Yes we need both, but focusing on the positive aspects of your transformation will help reinforce your progress and effort rather than obsessing with fat loss.
And girls, the boys have got this one well and truly sorted! Whilst we tend to love to look at what’s not happening with fat loss, they err towards what is happening with muscle management.
Read this next sentence twice or three times if you need to.
You can screw up a lot more in one week of bed rest than you can improve in 6 months of concentrated strength training.
(did you read it twice?)
Thinking about your muscle as you age is a very important factor in longevity and good health. This blog post is to help you understand why and see what you can do about it as you look to maintain or maximise your muscle when you’re 40 and over.
Regardless of age you can make a difference to your body composition.
Research studies have shown that you can successfully build muscle in the frail, elderly population.
In one study lasting over 12 weeks, 2.9lbs (1.2kg) was gained with a regular strength training programme.
This is exciting. It shows that the body is fully capable of improving, regardless of age, when needed. But here’s the rub, and here’s why people get frail when they get old. A week of bed rest showed a loss of 3.1lbs (1.4kg).
You can screw up a lot more in a week of inactivity than you can improve in 6 MONTHS.
So why muscle growth and not fat loss?
What does muscle do?
- Muscle boosts and regulates metabolism. This is the rate at which you burn calories at rest. So the higher your body percentage of muscle the more calories you burn whilst watching Strictly or I’m a Celebrity.
- Muscle gives you shape and definition. It doesn’t mean that you will by default get bulky. Women struggle to get bulky with strength training and, when you get the training right, you’ll be building longer, stronger muscles. Not broader and deeper.
- Muscle helps you with strength and endurance. As someone who strength trains I am always pleasantly surprised by the enduring walks my legs will do with no specific walk or hill training.
- Building muscle helps with bone density. Every time you work a muscle the pulling action of the tendon against the bone helps to build a stronger connection with the bone. This goes towards preventing osteoporosis.
- Building and maintaining muscle evenly gives you improved posture.
- Increasing muscle tone helps you to manage your weight with the increased metabolism as mentioned above.
- Muscle will burn more calories pound for pound than fat does.
- Being stronger helps make day to day tasks easier.
- Keeping a consistent strength programme helps to strengthen joints and helps hold you together better.
- Being strong gives you confidence.
How much muscle do I need?
Body composition scales are perfect for this. They will measure your body fat and ergo your muscle mass.
I have some funky scales where I can show you what you have and what you’re looking for.
There are different optimum levels at different stages in life. But at each stage there is an optimal range for body fat percentage whereby we can work out what muscle we require for good health.
The healthy body fat range for a woman is around 24-33%. The readings for men will be about 18-24%. Both of these are dependant on age and levels of activity.
How do I maintain it?
Firstly please understand that it’s way easier to maintain than build. However this doesn’t exclude you from making changes to make a difference!
This is, in my opinion and experience the order with which I’d approach this if you are maintaining.
- eat (protein rich foods)
- when (especially after exercise)
- move (whenever you can) more effort, lifting bags, playing with your children, shopping and gardening in addition to your exercise routine.
How do I build it?
This is, in my opinion and experience the order with which I’d approach this if you are building it.
- move (chose body-weight exercises like Fit Camp, BodyPump or weight training)
- rest (you get stronger between sessions, some training protocols require a 7 days rest period between sessions to allow the muscles to repair. Make sure you take time to recover after muscle fatigue)
- eat (a variety of different protein types each week. There is however an optimum amount per meal and it’s not a case of eating as much chicken as you can. There is a calculation based on your weight, but for now, aim for 20g protein per meal.)
This is not the same as a 20g piece of meat. You want a portion that delivers 20g of protein.
This looks something like:
- 100g salmon or beef
- 110g white fish
- 90g chicken or turkey
- 3 large eggs
- 290g red kidney beans
- 270g cooked red lentils
- 70g peanut butter
- 200g Greek yoghurt
- 80g cheese
By adding these into each of your three meals a day you’ll be getting a regular and steady supply of different proteins that your body can use to repair your muscles, build enzymes and hormones. Every cell needs a supply of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
There are many myths around muscle that can stop people from making the time to work on theirs. If you are already visiting a gym and only going on the cardio machines like the bikes, rowers and cross trainer do ask someone how to set you up with the the big 5 moves.
- Seated row
- Chest press
- Lat pull down
- Shoulder press
- Leg press
If you did nothing else, and worked on these, you’d touch many muscle groups and joints that would benefit from a regular strength challenge.
You will get bulky – women rarely get bulky with a standard gym programme. What you will get is toned, long muscles that look firmer and healthier.
It’s ugly – that’s a matter of opinion but once again, see above!
I don’t want the oiled tanned look – you don’t need to show your body off when it’s in shape. Chances are you’ll want to though!
It’s hard work – yes, moving heavy stuff is like work. But that’s why it changes your body. Running can be hard work, walking up hills can be hard work, thinking can be hard work. I always think of it as a percentage of my day when I go. “How long will this take me? and how much of my day/week is it?” When you realise that it’s peanuts in terms of time, it’s easier to suck up and get on with it.
It takes a long time to see a difference – well yes and no. But either way, the time is going to pass anyway. Surely it’s better to be working with time rather than against it?
It hurts – see ‘hard work’. Yes it can be tough, but you’re not going to start moving trucks with your neck at your first session! You find the level that challenges your body now, and as you get stronger you change it. It’s a constant game of increasing weight or duration, that’s where progress happens. But it never stays the same.
You’ve got to keep doing it – yes you do. Just like cleaning your teeth, washing your knickers and breathing. Just do it.
Menopause, midriff and mindset
We’ll find it harder to build muscle through menopause however it doesn’t mean we can’t and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Doing so will keep the metabolism up, the midriff minimised and your confidence high.
When you are strong, doing strength exercises means you are able to manage and your brain fires much better. During the peri-menopause moods and neurotransmitters can be all over the shop, so helping them along with some exercise will go some way to balance this.
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, fuel the neurotransmitters like serotonin that are our happy hormones. These are the hormones that feed the brain.
Weight gain can be a problem for many women in the menopause years and eating how you’ve done before may now become more challenging. Choose foods wisely and you’ll arm yourself against some of the easier traps to fall into. Choose protein at each meal. When you eat protein you’ll feel fuller for longer. This is great for calorie control, weight management and muscle maintenance.
Eating protein allows you to build and maintain muscle and, research has shown, that it is enhanced even more so when you eat it after exercise.
A poor mindset can stem from a lack of confidence and low self esteem. When you feel physically strong it helps to give you confidence every day.
- You’ll walk taller.
- Feel more capable.
- Be more grounded.
That can only transfer into your life, relationships and business positively.
Ask yourself what you can do first to build, maintain or improve your muscle mass so that you can start to add it into your week.
If you’d like to find out what your body composition is and take advantage of a free 30 minute consultation please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can book you in.