Building Muscle After 50 – Introduction
Building Muscle Over 50: The Ultimate Guide for Men
A lot of exercise information for over 50s men focuses on cardio.
That makes a lot of sense, given that your heart, lungs, and circulatory system are so essential.
After all, it doesn’t matter how big your biceps are; it’s your heart that’s quietly beating 24/7/365 to keep you alive.
However, your skeletal muscles are almost as important.
Your muscular strength and endurance have a massive impact on how you look and feel, affecting your quality of life as you get older.
If you want to remain strong and active into old age, you need to minimize muscle loss or, better yet, take steps to build more muscle.
Unfortunately, because of physical changes during the aging process, it’s neither practical nor advisable to train like someone in their 20s or 30s.
Trying to work out like you did when you were younger is asking for trouble!
That goes double if you are returning to exercise after a long break.
This article reveals the strategies you need to use for building muscle over 50.
Why Do You Lose Muscle Mass as You Age?
Muscle mass and strength tend to peak during your 30s.
After that, both decline gradually.
Most men lose an average of ten pounds of muscle per decade.
But why does that happen?
There are several reasons:
Muscle tissue is constantly broken down and then repaired.
When you are younger, muscle anabolism (growth) outpaces muscle catabolism (breakdown).
In other words, your body builds muscle faster than it is destroyed.
But, as you age, the rate of muscle breakdown exceeds your ability to repair it.
As a result, muscle mass gradually declines.
Sarcopenia is the slow process of losing muscle mass and is usually accompanied by osteopenia, which is the loss of bone mass.
The primary causes of sarcopenia are:
- normal aging – where you frankly have no options to change
- increase of stress promotes cortisol, a hormone that is linked to loss of muscle mass – here; you do have opportunities to change your thinking and preserve your body composition
- poor diet is another area where you have complete control of what you eat, just eat real food, and have no excuses!
The good news is that strength training slows down sarcopenia AND osteopenia and can even reverse it.
Reduced anabolic hormone production
Why does your body struggle to build muscle as you age?
One of the main reasons is that anabolic (muscle building) hormone production falls into decline.
Hormones are chemical messengers that tell your cells how to act.
Testosterone and human growth hormone are your primary anabolic hormones, but levels peak when you are in your mid-20s and early 30s and then start to fall.
By your 50s and beyond, production levels are measurably lower, contributing to muscle and strength loss.
In women, low hormone levels lead to a condition called menopause, which affects the reproductive cycle.
This is often treated with hormone replacement therapy.
Men experience similar age-related changes in hormones, but andropause (the male equivalent of menopause) often goes untreated.
Diet and exercise can help reduce anabolic hormone production, but lower human growth hormone and testosterone levels are unavoidable as you age.
Reduced levels of physical activity
Many men become less active as they age, and they may move from a manual labor job to something more sedentary, stop playing sports, or give up exercise.
Unfortunately, your body operates on a system of “use it or lose it.”
By doing less physical activity, you tell your body that you no longer need your existing muscle mass, and it responds by making your muscles weaker and smaller!
You can delay the natural muscle wasting processes by challenging your muscles regularly, which tells your body that you still need your muscles, and it will respond by trying to maintain them.
Can You Still Build Muscle in Your 50s And Beyond?
Thankfully, you can rebuild lost muscle mass, even if you are in your 50s, 70s, or 90s!
While you’ll never be as muscular as you were when you were younger, older lifters can still build impressive levels of strength and muscle mass.
More crucially, you can delay muscle loss.
Your body is amazingly adaptive and, if you stress your muscles with appropriate exercise, they will respond by getting bigger and stronger.
While the anabolic processes responsible for muscle growth won’t be as potent in your 50s as they were when you were younger, you can build muscle at any age.
However, as an older exerciser, you need to train smarter than when you were younger.
With less human growth hormone and testosterone available, you won’t be able to train hard, eat what you like, and stay up drinking all night like you did when you were in your 20s and 30s.
Instead, you’ll need to adjust your workouts, diet, and general lifestyle to support muscle growth.
Use the strategies in the next section to start (or continue) building muscle over 50.
How To Build Muscle When You Are Over 50
Use these strategies to get the best possible results from your muscle-building workouts!
#1. Focus on compound exercises
The best exercises for building muscle past 50 are the same ones you should have used when you were younger; compound exercises.
Compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscles to make the best use of your training time.
Compared to single-joint isolation exercises, compound exercises can also increase testosterone and human growth hormone production as an added benefit.
Good options include:
- Leg presses
- Bench presses
- Floor presses
- Overhead presses
- Lat pulldowns
- Seated rows
- Bent over rows
- Single-arm rows
You can also include a few isolation exercises, for example, biceps curls and calf raises, in your workouts if you have the time and energy, but they aren’t essential.
You’ll probably get better results if you put all your effort into compound training.
#2. Use full-body workouts
Full-body workouts are your best option for strength training over 50.
With most split routines, you train each muscle once per week, which may not be enough to make stubborn muscles grow.
But, if you do full-body workouts, you can hit each major muscle group two or three times a week, which is much more hypertrophic.
If you stick to compound exercises, you can train your entire body with just 6-8 exercises.
- Bench press
- Single-arm row
- Overhead press
- Lat pulldowns
By focusing on compound exercises for building muscle and strength, you should be able to complete a full-body workout in an hour or less.
#3. Plan your weights, reps, and sets
Current research suggests that older muscles grow best when exposed to moderate weights for medium to high reps.
Medium to high reps means you should build most of your workout around sets of 8-15 repetitions.
Each set’s last 2-3 reps should be challenging but not impossible to complete in good form.
Lower reps and higher weights can also work, but they can be hard on your joints.
Higher reps with lighter weights are better for endurance and less efficient for building muscle – plus, your sets will end up taking longer.
Speaking of sets, even one set of each exercise will increase muscle mass and strength, but, up to a point, more is better.
3-4 sets per exercise should be sufficient.
If you feel like you can do more, you may be resting too long between sets or ending your set before fatigue starts to set in.
See How Many Exercises, Sets, + Reps Per Workout Should You Do for more details on this essential question.
#4. Eat for building muscle
As a younger person, you could probably eat whatever you wanted and still build muscle.
That’s the power of testosterone and human growth hormone!
But, as you get older and anabolic hormone levels fall into decline, you need to pay more attention to your diet to ensure that your muscles get what they need to recover and grow.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you are eating sufficient protein.
Protein is critical for muscle growth.
Consume around one gram of protein per pound of body weight, or two grams per kilo.
Good high-protein foods for building muscle include:
- Soy-based foods
- Nuts and seed
- Whey protein powder
- Plant-based protein powder
You also need to consume enough carbohydrates.
Carbs provide you with the energy you need to fuel your workouts.
Low-carb diets like Atkins and Keto are helpful for weight loss but aren’t so good for building muscle.
Choose nutritious sources of carbs to ensure you also eat plenty of vitamins and minerals, plus fiber.
Good choices include:
- White and sweet potatoes
- Oatmeal and other unrefined grains
- Brown and wild rice
- Wholemeal pasta
- Wholemeal bread
Avoid consuming too much sugar, junk food, and refined foods, none of which are conducive for building muscle and are more likely to cause fat gain!
Finally, around 20-30% of your calories should come from fat.
Dietary fat is vital for the production of testosterone and human growth hormone, as well as maintaining the integrity of cell membranes.
Low-fat diets are commonly linked to lower anabolic hormone production.
Good sources of fat include:
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish
- Full-fat dairy
- Coconut oil
#5. Get enough sleep
Older people often sleep less than younger people.
This is sometimes out of necessity, as you’re more likely to have commitments that mean you can’t spend all day in bed!
That said, younger people usually need more sleep because growing uses a lot of energy.
Babies and young children often sleep 12 or more hours per day.
If you are serious about building muscle in your 50s, it’s time to get serious about sleep, too.
Sleep is when your body does most of its repair and growth, and too little can seriously impede your muscle-building progress.
Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, which for most older adults, that often means going to bed earlier than usual, as we don’t have the luxury of getting up later.
Work back from the time you have to get up to determine your new bedtime.
Make sure you start getting ready for bed 30 minutes before this.
Avoid stress, bright lights, and caffeine late at night, all of which can make it harder to fall asleep.
Also, make sure your bedroom is conducive to a good nights’ sleep, for example, warm but not hot, dark, quiet, and with no distractions.
Consider upgrading your bed and pillows if you aren’t comfortable.
Sleep puts back into your body what training takes out, so don’t underestimate the importance of sleep for building muscle.
Building Muscle Over 50 – Wrapping Up
Building muscle after 50 is more challenging than it was when you were younger, but it’s far from impossible.
It’s just that your resources are a little more limited than they used to be, and your progress will probably be slower.
Because of this, older exercisers need to pay attention to the little things to ensure they get the best results from their training time.
Diet and sleep are more important than ever, and you need to make sure you spend your training energy wisely.
But, if you persevere, you can still build muscle into your 50s and beyond.
After that, your job is to minimize muscle loss.
Keep doing the cardio.
After all, it’s crucial for your cardiovascular health.
But, also make sure you hit the weights 2-3 times a week.
Maintaining your strength as you age is vital for preserving your quality of life.
Now that you know you can build muscle over 50 and improve your health and fitness, what’s an excellent program?
I’ve got you covered!
See Strength Training for Men Over 50 for tips on warm-up, exercise descriptions, and a full-body workout you can start today!