Protein, Weight Lifting, Preservation of Muscle Mass, and Sarcopenia

Posted on Dec 9, 2014 in Research Highlights and Insights

A look at a recent publication:

Dickinson JM et. Leucine-Enriched Amino Acid Ingestion after Resistance Exercise Prolongs Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis and Amino Acid Transporter Expression in Older Men. J. Nutr. 144:1694-1702,2014

Aging is associated with a gradual and involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass in both men and women, which leads at some point to a decline in muscle strength and function. Age -elated loss of muscle mass and function is known as sarcopenia.

On average, we loose about 1% of our muscle each year, beginning around age 30. Although there is some variability in the rate of sarcopenia, decline in muscle mass is pretty much inevitable.


Sarcopenia is a major contributor to loss of mobility, frailty, and independent living as we “mature.” Skeletal muscle is responsible for about 75% of our body’s control of blood sugar, and elevated blood sugar is a major risk factor for accelerated aging and premature death, primarily due to cardiovascular disease (preserving muscle mass as we age is a major longevity enhancing strategy. (NOTHING good happens to our body as fasting blood sugar rises.)

Resistance Exercise (RE)

It is estimated that there will be approximately 71 million Americans 65 and older by 2030, and sarcopenia will play a major role in rising health care costs, along with many people not having a “healthspan” anywhere near their lifespan. Resistance exercise (RE) or weight lifting is the primary strategy to enhance and preserve muscle mass and strength at ALL ages.

Tips for maximum strength creation, preservation, and muscle endurance:

  • Number of sets per exercise: one set
  • Speed of movement: slow, non-explosive
  • Number of repetitions: 8 to 12 with maximum 20 reps **
  • Frequency of training: twice per week for most muscle groups

**from Smith D and Bruce-Low S. Strength Training Methods and the Work of Arthur Jones. Journal of Exercise Physiology online. 2004;7(6): 52-68

A review of the published literature seems to indicate that varying the number of repetitions, higher or lower, does not produce differing effects on strength or muscular endurance. The exercises should be done to the point where it is hard to do more without help.

Additional material on Resistance Exercise: activity/everyone/guidelines, and

Protein Ingestion Post RE

In ALL age groups essential amino acids have the ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, however, relative to younger individuals, older adults have an impaired muscle protein synthesis response to RE.

In ALL age groups the essential amino acid Leucine helps drive the production of muscle protein post- exercise, and this is especially important in older adults. In the above article by Dickinson, the important finding is the following (At least in older adults):

The ingestion of 10 grams of essential amino acids containing either 1.85 or 3.5 grams of Leucine, 1 hour after RE prolongs the anabolic response of aging muscle and facilities improved sensitivity of aging muscle to amino acids, and their muscle-building properties, up to 24 hours. This will help prevent sarcopenia and promotes muscle strength.

Whey Protein to the Rescue

Aging is associated with an inability for lower (< optimum) amounts of ingested protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. One scoop of whey protein contains >10 grams of essential amino acids and 1.63 G of Leucine.

Daily Protein Requirement

  • Adults age 18-59 need 0.36 grams of protein/pound of body weight daily
  • Adults age 60 years and older need 0.45 to 0.54 grams of protein/pound of body weight daily

Dr. Steve’s Favorite Protein Sources:

Jennie-O Ground Turkey Breast Extra Lean: 26 grams protein/3.5 ounces, 120 calories, 70 mg sodium

Eating Right Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts: 26 grams protein/3,5 ounces, 130 calories, 75 mg sodium

Wild Pacific Salmon Fillet-King (Chinook flash-frozen fillet): 26 grams protein/3.5 ounces, 179 calories, 47 mg sodium

Wild Pacific Blue Mussels (flash-frozen): 24 grams protein/3.5 ounces, 172 calories, 369 mg sodium

Wild & Pure Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (with skin and bones, BPA-free canned): 23 grams protein/3.75 ounces, 160 calories, 359 mg sodium (or 161 calories and 75 mg sodium in the “no salt added” variety)

Wild Pacific Silver Coho Salmon Fillet (flash frozen): 22 grams protein/3.5 ounces, 146 calories, 46 mg sodium

Wild Pacific Red Sockeye Salmon Fillet (flash frozen): 21 grams protein/3.5 ounces, 168 calories, 47 mg sodium

Alaskan Halibut Fillet (flash frozen): 21 grams protein/3.5 ounces, 110 calories, 54 mg sodium

Solgar Whey to Go Whey Protein Powder Natural Vanilla (rBGH free): 20 grams protein/scoop, 90 calories, 40 mg sodium

Wild and Pure Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (skinless and boneless, BPA-free caned); 19 grams protein/3.75 ounces, 133 calories, 359 mg sodium (or 134 calories and 67 mg sodium in the “no salt added” variety)

Kirkland Solid White Albacore Tuna (packed in water): 16 grams protein/ 2 oz., 70 calories, 180 mg sodium

Voskos Greek Nonfat Yogurt: 15 grams protein/5.3 ounce container, 90 calories, 55 mg sodium

King Oscar Sardines in extra-virgin olive oil: 14 grams protein/ 3.75 ounces, 240 calories, 300 mg sodium

Kirkland Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (BPA-free canned): 12 grams protein/ ¼ cup, 60 calories, 230 mg sodium

Once Again Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter (no salt added): 9 grams protein/2 Tbsp., 210 calories, 0 mg sodium

Soy nuts: 9 grams protein ¼ cup, 70 calories, sodium variable, multiple sources

Cascade Fresh Nonfat Yogurt: 10 grams protein/6 ounces, 80 calories, 110 mg sodium

Horizon Organic Fat-Free Milk: 9 grams protein/cup, 90 calories, 120 mg sodium

Haagen-Dazs Vanilla All Natural Low-Fat Frozen Yogurt: 9 grams protein/ ¼ cup, 180 calories, 45 mg sodium

Horizon Organic DHA Omega-3 Fat-Free Milk: 9 grams protein/cup, 100 calories, 160 mg sodium

Pumpkin Seeds; 9 grams protein/ ¼ cup, 180 calories, 5 mg sodium, multiple brands (organic, when possible)

Westbrae Natural Vegetarian Organic Lentil Beans: 8 grams protein/ ½ cup, 100 calories, 150 mg sodium

MaraNatha Organic Roasted Peanut Butter: 8 grams protein/2 tablespoons, 180 calories, 0 mg sodium

Edamame (shelled): 8 grams protein/ ½ cup cooked, 100 calories, sodium variable, multiple brands

Quinoa, cooked: 8 grams protein/ cup, 220 calories, sodium variable, multiple brands

MaraNatha Natural Almond Butter: 7 grams protein/2 tablespoons, 190 calories, 0 mg sodium

Stonyfield Organic 0% Fat Yogurt: 7 grams protein/cup, 100 calories, 120 mg sodium

Almonds: 7 grams protein/ ¼ cup, 130 calories, 0 mg sodium, multiple sources

Lactaid Lactose-Free Nonfat Yogurt: 7 grams protein/cup, 140 calories, 120 mg sodium

Egg (large): 6 grams protein/1 large egg, 70 calories, 55 mg sodium, multiple brands