As you age, your body undergoes many different changes. One common age-related shift is loss of muscle mass, which can happen at a rate of around 3% loss of strength with every passing year once you enter middle adulthood. This is also known as sarcopenia.
“Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, can begin as early as one’s thirties and can result in a nearly 15% lean muscle loss due to aging throughout your lifetime,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements. “And while this isn’t always avoidable, it can be slowed through our diet and lifestyle.”
Fighting sarcopenia involves a focused balance of both movement and nutrition, with things like a sedentary lifestyle and lack of dietary protein being common culprits of accelerating muscle aging. But when it comes to diet, it may take more than just adding protein.
One of the most foundational eating habits to pay attention to when it comes to slowing muscle aging is making sure you’re consuming enough high-quality protein.
“All animal food sources are complete proteins, and plant sources of complete protein include hemp seeds, quinoa, tofu, edamame, tempeh, nutritional yeast, and a combination of beans and rice,” says Best.
A complete protein has all 9 essential amino acids, which our bodies do not produce on their own, meaning we need them from the food we eat. Most plant proteins like vegetables are considered incomplete proteins, but if you have a balanced diet, you should still be able to hit your required amino acid profile.
And while some people may feel they need an exact amount, Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, and member of our medical expert advisory board says you may not need to focus as much on this.
“Rather than fixate on exact grams with people (which tends to confuse them), I advise being sure to include protein at each meal like milk, yogurt, eggs, chicken, fish, lean meat, nuts, and beans.”
According to Best, another crucial habit to get into for protecting your muscle strength is incorporating plenty of omega-3 fatty acids into your daily diet.
“Omega-3s are linked to muscle health due to their anti-inflammatory nature,” says Best. “And the lower the rate of inflammation in the body, the less likely muscle cells are being broken down or damaged.”
You can get omega-3s through many types of fish, seeds, and nuts, or you can supplement with an omega-3 pill.
Vitamin D is important for your bone health, mental health, your body’s calcium absorption, and your muscle health as well.
“Vitamin D is another important factor in your diet to prevent muscle breakdown because it assists in muscle protein synthesis and is also an anti-inflammatory in the body,” says Best. “Many foods high in vitamin D are fortified with this vitamin and include juices, milk, yogurts, and cereals.”
Similarly to omega-3s, if you feel you aren’t getting enough vitamin D through your daily diet then you can supplement this as well. However, talk with a doctor before supplementing, as it’s also possible you can have too much of this vitamin.