Maintaining Muscle Mass with Age

 “Vigorous aerobic activity, not just muscle strengthening exercise, helps preserve muscle mass during aging” – Martha Savaria Morris, PhD, Tufts Nutrition Human Nutrition Center

Senior LiftingMuscle mass often decreases with age, and although some of this may be unavoidable, certainly a lot of it isn’t. For example, I carry more muscle mass at 50 than I did at 20, but my father (who does work out with weights) carries far less at 90 years of age then he did previously. I doubt I will carry the same muscle mass if I am blessed to live to 90, and I probably will not be deadlifting over 300 pounds either at that age.

Readers of this site are no doubt aware of all of the positive effects, both physical and mental, of building and maintaining muscle, and as one ages, muscles take on a new and critical role.

  • Maintaining (or building) muscle mass makes independence more likely. No one likes the idea of moving into assisted living, of needing help with daily tasks, of not being able to take care of themselves. Loss muscle mass makes independence less likely.
  • Increased likelihood and severity of falls is also associated with aging and loss of muscle mass. A broken hip at 70 years of age or younger merely sucks for the relatively healthy. At 80 and beyond full recovery often does not occur, and there is often “increased mortality.”

Medical researchers have found what bodybuilders have always known about building muscle, basically that resistance exercises like lifting weights and consuming adequate protein helps build and maintain muscle. They have also found that aerobic activity helps maintain muscle mass during aging. These results were found by the Tufts Nutrition Human Nutrition Center and recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The study analyzed 2425 participants over the age of 50 for a 4 year period.

Of course no one should start (or restart) an exercise program without consulting a doctor, although people do every day. Certainly consulting a doctor (which I DO recommend) is increasingly important as one ages. And of course one starts with mild exercise and works up to more vigorous exercise as at any age.

My father began lifting in his 80s and has gotten significant and concrete medical benefits. You absolutely can start or restart later in life (with your doctor’s permission).

The Tufts study stressed the importance of high quality protein intake, and singled out meat, poultry, fish, and soy as complete sources of protein, and suggested low fat cuts of meat. No surprises here.

What is surprising is that vigorous aerobic activities, those that lasted 10 minutes of longer and caused heavy breathing, increased heart rate, and/or heavy sweating, are associated with a higher muscle mass. The health benefits of aerobic exercise are no surprise, but to many of us including myself, but the effect on muscle mass is surprising.

“Muscle strengthening, aerobic activities, and good dietary protein may help slow age-related declines in muscle mass and strength.”  –Duke Medicine Health News

Although certainly not conclusive, it is interesting that those combining vigorous aerobic activities with high intakes of beef or pork achieved the most muscle mass!

Jerk Tilapia

Jerk Tilapia
Great with a side of greens like Broccoli or Spinach

Jerk is a method of seasoning popular in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. It imparts a spicy-sweet flavor that’s fantastic. Jerk Chicken and Jerk Pork are probably the most popular.

This recipe from Dave Ruel uses tilapia, a very lean and high protein fish that is sustainably farmed. There is plenty of wild tilapia around too in the tropics, and tilapia is widely available in markets.

High protein, low fat, low carb, and easy to cook – what’s not to like?

This recipe is simple and almost foolproof. It does require a good number of spices, but spices are a great investment as they add flavor with essentially zero calories! If you are missing a spice, don’t worry. Just skip it and the tilapia will still taste fine! Originally this recipe comes from the great Anabolic Cooking.

Ingredients: 4 Tilapia Filets (about 1 pound to 1 ¼ pounds usually), 2 Garlic Cloves, 1 Jalapeno Pepper, 1 Tbsp Lime Juice, 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, salt and pepper to taste

Spices: 1 teaspoon Thyme,  1 teaspoon Chili Powder, 1 teaspoon powdered Ginger,  1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon

Jerk Spices
Jerk Spices with Garlic and Jalapeno

Mix the thyme, chili powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a little salt and pepper in a bowl. Chop the garlic or use a garlic press and add to the bowl (if using prechopped garlic from the store, 1 teaspoon is about right but you can add more if you love garlic with no problem).

Also slice the jalapeno into thin slices, and add it to the bowl of spices, mixing as best you can. You can deseed it as well if you want as the seeds hold much of the heat. Many people suggest wearing gloves when you slice hot peppers like jalapenos to avoid getting the heat on your fingers (which you might accidentally transfer to your eyes or balls later by rubbing or scratching!). I don’t worry about it, but just minimally touch the jalapenos when slicing. Great video on slicing peppers here.

I sometimes now transfer the spice mix to a flat dish to make coating the tilapia fillets easy.

In another flat dish, combine a tablespoon of fresh lime juice with two tablespoons of olive oil. Hey, yes, you can use lemon juice instead, and any type of oil will work if you don’t have olive oil. Don’t sweat the small stuff man!

Frying Jerk Tilapia
Just starting to cook the tilapia

Take each tilapia fillet, cover both sides in the lime juice/olive oil, and then pat both sides in the spice mixture to cover. Don’t worry about covering them perfectly evenly.

Cook at medium to medium high heat (I put my burner at “7” on its 1 to 10 scale) for 2 ½ to 3 minutes a side in a  frying pan, until the fish is opaque and starts to flake. You can add a little non stick spray or oil to the pan, but I’ve found my fish has enough from the previous steps.

Let cool a few minutes and enjoy!

An entire pound has only about 700 calories, 110 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat (from the olive oil) and close to zero grams of carbs!

Easy Baked Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts are mainstays of many healthy diets

Chicken breasts are low fat, high protein, and are mainstays of many bodybuilders and other healthy eaters diets. However chicken breasts can be boring if they are bland, dry if overcooked, and it is pretty easy to get tired of them.

Humans have been eating chicken (the most common form of poultry, which basically means bird), and getting bored with it forever: chicken was one of the earliest domesticated animals for food.

but they can be boring . . .

Baked Chicken BreastsHere is a very simple recipe for spiced chicken breasts roasted in the oven. Not bland, not dry, and you can vary the spices as well as eat the chicken as is or use the chicken in different kinds of dishes like Mexican and Italian.

Try it out, and it just may make it to your list of favorite recipes.

This simple recipe rocks!

We bake at 400 degrees, which helps the chicken cook quickly and not dry out.

Also, to keep the chicken from being boring, we spice it. In the pictures, I’m simply using Montreal Chicken Seasoning, available in most any supermarket in the spices isle, or you can even make your own.

There are plenty of other spice choices you can use, and I vary my spices depending on what I’m doing with the chicken breasts. If I’m eating them as is, I usually use the Montreal Chicken Seasoning or perhaps just salt and pepper instead.

If I’m using the chicken in a Mexican dish, maybe nachos or tacos, I may use fresh cilantro and cumin. If it’s for an Italian dish, maybe sometime as simple as accompanying spaghetti, basil and garlic is great. Feel free to experiment, and I most commonly use Montreal Chicken Seasoning or salt and pepper.


  • one pound boneless chicken breasts
  • olive oil (any other oil you may have handy also works fine, but I prefer olive oil personally)
  • Montreal Chicken Seasoning (or whatever spices/herbs you prefer).

Turn the oven on to ”Bake” at 400 degrees.

Seasoning Chicken BreastsWhile it is heating, trim the breasts of any visible fat (I usually use scissors),  place into a baking dish, coat both sides of the chicken with one tablespoon of oil, and coast both sides liberally with the chicken seasoning.

Once the oven is preheated to 400 degrees, place the chicken in the oven.

Bake it for 25 to 35 minutes.

At 25 minutes, check to see if it is done. Cut a chicken breast at the thickest part to make sure it is not pink (meaning not fully cooked). If so give it another 5 minutes in the oven and check again. If still not done, another 5 minutes (for 35 minutes total) will finish the job.

Don’t forget to turn off the stove (it’s easy to forget).

Let the chicken cool for 10 minutes if you can, and you are done! Eat as is, or use in a recipe like The Muscle Cook’s Almond Chicken Salad.

You can keep the chicken in the refrigerator for a couple days easily (tightly wrapped so it doesn’t dry out) or you can freeze it for longer storage. And of course you can cook more than 1 pound of chicken at a time also.

For some simple ideas yet imaginative ideas showing how flexible chicken breasts are, check out 20 quick fixes for boneless chicken breasts. Great pictures too.