Building muscle after 50 

  • minute read

So today as I write this I saw an article shared by someone on a Facebook Group where the author of the article said that after the age of 40 one has to modify their training habits.

Initially I thought to myself, yes this would be correct - after all we all change physiologically and recognizing this and training around this we can still make progress... assuming maintaining or building muscle mass is the goal.

The article then went on to say that muscle loss over 40, or sarcopenia, is inevitable and that weights should be avoided because it'll put undue stress on the body as it ages.

This is the point where I lost it!

This is just plain flat wrong and terrible advice.

I never weight trained as a kid or in college, and indeed I have always been 'chunky' through most of my adult life until I reached the age of 42. At that point I had a personal trainer who introduced me to light weight training - mostly with the use of dumbbells. The other factor I did was change my diet.

I dropped a ton of weight and I got stronger and it showed.

When I was 51 I was introduced to the barbell. Something I had been fearful of because I thought I'd only injure myself. After all this was only for meatheads, right?

The key part to my success was that I was taught correctly by a coach who specialized in barbell strength training.

I knew that I had to increase my protein intake if I was to build any more muscle to be able to lift heavier.

In reality I found that I was eating more meat at meal times, or I would have leftover meat and add it to my eggs at breakfast. I did not add any extra supplementation.

With this strategy I definitely put on more muscle and I could see this most with my traps. I had built a bigger shelf for me to scrunch together when I squat. This was a visible result.

Because I didn't supplement I actually lost weight, which I documented in my weight loss article.

This was great until I started to plateau in terms of the weights I could lift.

I broke through this plateau in two ways:

1) My programming was changed to drive my stress - recovery - adaptation cycle

2) I added a daily whey protein shake with added creatine monohydrate

While the programming was necessary to cause the body to demand protein synthesis it is useless unless you are consuming enough of the right protein to allow the body to actually perform the synthesis.

This is where age has to be taken into consideration and the sciency bit!

Importance of Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

For a synthesis event to occur there has to be a certain level of Branch Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) in the protein ingested. These BCAAs are specifically leucine, isoleucine and valine.

In younger adults the level of BCAAs is relatively small which is why they can pack on the muscle with even relatively low amounts of protein ingested.

As we age the level of BCAAs required goes up and as a rule of thumb for anyone over 50 2.5g of BCAA per 30g serving should be enough to allow the body to correctly synthesize the rest of the protein into muscle.

I had started supplementing with a whey protein and I was definitely adding muscle mass, but relatively slowly.

I wondered why and it was then that I did the research and I noted that the protein I was taking had 1.25g of leucine. This is sort of on the border for triggering a synthesis event for someone like me in early to mid fifties. It therefore was hit or miss as to whether my body would make use of the protein or not.

So I switched to a whey protein powder that had 6.5g of BCAAs per serving and I noticed a difference immediately. My muscle mass has increased uniformly over my body in response to my training stresses and this is seen in my increasing strength, for example in my deadlift performance improvement.

Currently I take a different protein powder that I can purchase in 11 pound bags.  It has slightly less - 4.5g of BCAAs but this is significantly over the 2.5g threshold and so I haven't noticed any major difference in improvement.

Adding Creatine

The other supplement I have added is creatine monohydrate.

The primary motivation for this is to improve my stamina during my workouts.

For muscles to work correctly our muscles use Adenosine Triphosphate - or ATP - as the fuel to allow them to contract. In this process a phosphate molecule is removed to form Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) and during this process energy is released.

To replenish ATP molecules there are 3 major mechanisms, but one of them is the creatine cycle. The body will store creatine phosphate within the muscles ready for them to donate a phosphate molecule to an ADP molecule to reform ATP ready for use again, and the creatine will be converted into creatinine to be expelled by the kidneys.

The beauty of this is that it does not require oxygen in the process and so can be done while holding your breath.

Eating meat will usually allow the muscles to store creatine phosphate in the body.

Supplementation is really only as a natural top-up to the amount of available creatine phosphate. It isn't a silver bullet that is going to make you magically stronger or work out for longer, but rather I view it as a tool to ensure best performance to support my workout schedule.

Most creatine monohydrate comes from the same place so there isn't too much difference where you get it from. I just happen to get mine from the same site as the whey protein to save on shipping. If you are interested you can find it here.

If you are over 50 and take creatine does it help you as well?


I'm Mark and I am an entrepreneur and IT specialist by trade, but have become an avid fan of strength training - especially for people fifty and above.  I love writing about my strength training journey and sharing my experiences so that it may inspire others to do the same.

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