It’s all about muscle loss and weakness. Sarcopenia is known as a syndrome, and is characterised by progressive and general loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. Risk factors for sarcopenia include age, gender and level of physical activity. The term is usually applied to ageing adults, but not exclusively.
To get an idea of how fast sarcopenia works, after 30, adults lose around 3% of skeletal muscle mass a year. The good news is, you can slow sarcopenia with lifestyle choices.
Protein. Protein is the building blocks of your connective tissue including muscle, and by adding more to your diet, you can slow the gradual loss of muscle we experience with age. One of the best protein supplements you can take is collagen.
Collagen makes up around 30% of the protein in our bodies. It’s found in muscle, tendon, bones and ligaments, as well as skin, hair and nails. When looking to help manage age-related muscle loss, collagen supplement is a powerful option when paired with exercise.
Muscles contain collagen, but so do tendons. Tendons are the rope-like structures that connect muscle to bone and are put under significant stress during activity, so we need them to be strong. To increase both tendon and muscle strength and prevent muscle loss, some studies show collagen supplement can help.
One study of elderly men put participants into two groups: Resistance training plus collagen supplements vs. resistance training plus placebo supplements. When combined with resistance training, the group experienced an increase in fat-free mass, increased muscle strength and a greater loss of fat mass compared to the placebo group.
Another study found quadriceps strength increased more in the group taking 15g of collagen peptide as a supplement vs. control. All participants were completing a resistance training program at the time.
In other words? Collagen can help increase muscle, but you need to be working out for it to have an effect.
Top tip: Some of the best collagen supplements are derived from marine environments. These are often higher quality and have more bioavailable collagen.
Collagen is a protein, and when paired with other proteins supplements known as ‘complete proteins,’ you can slow sarcopenia. This works because protein synthesis slows in older adults, so by ingesting more protein, you top up your body’s natural levels. Complete protein supplements are often derived from whey or hemp.
Supplements only work when you get moving and exercise regularly. In every study showing improved muscle strength with protein and collagen supplementation, the participants in the study and control groups were completing resistance training.
This doesn’t have to mean heavy weights at the gym: Resistance band exercises, smaller weights and body-weight exercises all count as resistance training. Doing your favourite activity, whether it’s gardening, tennis or walking, is fantastic, but it’s not enough to slow sarcopenia. Add some specific resistance workouts to your week, and you’ll find your strength, muscle tone and overall fitness improves drastically.
Most cities and towns have fantastic community classes like yoga, tai chi and gym classes available to seniors for free, so check them out. They’re also a great way to meet people, while preserving your strength and independence.
Don’t guess how much protein you may need, luckily scientists have done the maths for you. A systematic review of all the evidence on supplementation and sarcopenia hypothesised the answer: Increasing protein intake to 1.2kg per kg of body weight per day, in older adults, would have a beneficial effect on muscle function.
Top tip: Divide the above calculation by half, and try half collagen and half complete protein supplement for maximum benefits.
So you know protein and collagen are great for slowing the effects of sarcopenia, but how do you add supplements to your diet? The easiest way is to combine a high quality collagen powder supplement, with a ‘complete protein’ supplement. Throw them in your blender with a banana, ice, kiwi fruit, chia seeds, water and an orange, and you’re set!
By adding collagen and a complete protein supplement to your diet, when combined with resistance training, you can slow the hands of time and maintain your muscle strength.
Photo credit: Logan Weaver