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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Building Quality Muscle: How Diet and Resistance Training Can Help

May 30, 2024 09:25AM ● By JJ Virgin, CNS, CHFS
salmon, chicken, beef, cheese, eggs, seeds, nuts shown building muscle

pixelfit from Getty Images Signature & piotr_malcyzk from Getty Images

Muscles act like metabolic Spanx, holding everything in the body tighter, supporting joints to prevent injuries, keeping bones strong and helping the immune system remain resilient to infection. Skeletal muscle acts as an endocrine-producing organ, supporting a healthy metabolism and balancing hormones. Strong, healthy muscles help us feel better, move more easily and live more powerfully.

Once someone crosses the threshold into their 40s, there is a natural decline in muscle mass and strength, known as sarcopenia. Adults can lose 3 to 8 percent of muscle mass per decade after turning 30, with losses accelerating after 60. Preventing this decline and supporting quality muscle is key. “Muscle can be stimulated largely in two ways: first, through dietary protein, and second, through resistance,” explains Gabrielle Lyon, a board-certified family physician and author of Forever Strong.


Optimal Protein Consumption

The building blocks of protein fall into two categories: essential amino acids, which are necessary nutrients that the body cannot make on its own and must be acquired through dietary intake; and non-essential amino acids, which can be synthesized by the body from carbohydrates and other dietary sources. To promote muscle recovery and development, it is important to consume protein that contains all nine essential amino acids in optimal amounts throughout the day.

More than half of older adults are not getting enough protein, and sarcopenia may increase their need for it. To offset age-related decline, every meal should contain a minimum of 30 grams of protein. Active people, including those who do resistance training, should target one gram of protein per pound of their ideal body weight daily.

The best animal proteins that offer all nine essential amino acids in the right balance include pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild-caught seafood and grass-fed beef. Plant proteins often lack one or more crucial amino acid, so vegans or vegetarians should eat a minimum of 40 grams of protein per meal to reach an adequate intake.

Breaking an overnight fast with a protein-packed breakfast jumpstarts metabolism and provides more sustained energy during the day, fueling morning activities and preventing mid-morning crashes. A protein-rich dinner supports muscle recovery and helps the body rebuild during sleep.


Benefits of Resistance Training

“The most important type of exercise is resistance training as you get older, because you need to build muscle," says Mark Hyman, a functional-medicine doctor whose latest book, Young Forever, explores the secrets to longevity.Without muscle, you become frail and dysfunctional.” Building muscle can improve the capacity for everyday activities, diminish the likelihood of chronic illnesses and decrease the risk of falls and frailty. Resistance training also improves bone density, metabolic health and overall quality of life.


Resistance-Training Tips

  • Target multiple muscle groups simultaneously with compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows and overhead presses.
  • Focus on lifting the maximum weight manageable while maintaining proper form to avoid injury.
  • Gradually increase the resistance or intensity of exercises over time to continually challenge the muscles.
  • Aim for two to four weekly resistance-training sessions. Consistency and patience are the foundations for lasting strength and muscle-tone improvements.
  • Engage all key muscle groups. For the upper body, try bench presses, overhead presses, dumbbell chest presses, pushups, pull-ups, bent-over rows, seated rows and lat pulldowns. To work the hips and thighs, try squats, lunges, deadlifts and step-ups. For core strength, consider planks, Russian twists and bicycle crunches. 
  • Perform two to four exercises for each muscle group, doing two to four sets for each exercise. Between sets, take 90- to 120-second rest breaks. Aim for eight to 15 repetitions per set.

Rest and Recovery

To prevent injuries or burnout, rest is crucial, allowing muscles to repair and rebuild. Give each muscle group 48 to 72 hours before targeting it again. It is normal to feel sore after a workout, but be mindful of the difference between soreness and pain. Soreness feels like mild, diffuse discomfort or stiffness and is a normal response to unfamiliar or intense exercise. Sharp, intense or persistent pain, particularly around a joint, indicates potential injury or overstrain.

On rest days, incorporate low-intensity, active-recovery activities like walking, yoga or swimming; try foam rolling, stretching and mobility exercises to improve flexibility and circulation; and consider meditation for mental-health benefits. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep, which promotes tissue repair and growth-hormone release.


Monitoring Progress

  • To optimize strategies and identify areas for improvement, regularly measure the circumference of the biceps, chest, thighs, waist and hips. 
  • Keep track of the amount of weight, repetitions, sets and intensity of every exercise session. 
  • Track muscle mass and body-fat shifts with a body-composition scale and take consistent photos from various angles to document muscle definition and physique evolution.


Staying the Course

  • Adjustments to diet and training programs may be necessary based on changing goals or feedback from tracking methods. 
  • If progress stalls, adjust training variables such as workout intensity or frequency. 
  • Use fluctuations in muscle mass or body fat to refine protein intake or overall macronutrient ratios.
JJ Virgin is a certified nutrition specialist, certified fitness instructor and bestselling author of The Virgin Diet, JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet and their companion cookbooks. Learn more at


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