Preservation of lean muscle mass matters for long term health and function. It is also important to those who want to gain muscle mass so they can look hot and/or awesome. it is also important for strength and for athletic performance. Whatever your interests, here is a report of a recent study on dietary fats and muscle mass.
Dietary fat may help you stay strong so you can beat up young people.
Dietary Fat and Protein Turnover
Dietary fat may regulate protein turnover. The thought is that dietary fats influence both inflammation and insulin. This study was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Nutrition. Study subjects were 2,689 women who are part of a study of twins in the UK. Data was collected on:
- Percent of Calories obtained from Fat
- Fatty acid profile
- Fat -free mass in kilograms (an indicator of muscle mass)
- Fat-free mass measured by X-Ray absorptiometry
Results of the Dietary Fat and Muscle Study
- Women whose diets were higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids had higher fat-free mass (more muscle).
- Women who got more of their calories from fat had less fat free mass (less muscle)
- Women who ate more saturated fat had less fat free mass (less muscle)
- Women who ate more unsaturated fatty acids had less fat free mass (less muscle)
- Women who are more transfats had less fat free mass (less muscle)
Women who were in the top 20% for energy intake from polyunsaturated fatty acids had about a pound more muscle mass than women who were at the bottom 20% for polyunsaturated fatty acid. This is about the same difference in muscle mass that would be seen in a 10 year aging period. You could look at this and say that a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids saves 10 years of muscle aging. And you might be right. Polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce inflammation and seem to protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer as well. We don’t know what drives age-related muscle loss. It might be related to the same factors that drive cell-aging in general.
The Simple Takeaway for Dietary Fat and Muscle Mass
This is the first study of its kind and more research is needed to figure out what is going on. However, this study supports the idea that a diet higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids is protective against loss of muscle mass. As many are sure to proclaim: correlation is not causation. That claim does not end arguments, although it is often used that way. It simply means that we need to know more. This is an interesting study that should lead to further investigation. Thanks to the team (Alisa Welch, Alex MacGregor, Anne-Marie Minihane, Jane Skinner, Anna Valdes, Tim Spector and Aedin Cassidy) for your hard work.
Welch AA, Macgregor AJ, Minihane AM, Skinner J, Valdes AA, Spector TD, & Cassidy A (2014). Dietary fat and Fatty Acid profile are associated with indices of skeletal muscle mass in women aged 18-79 years. The Journal of nutrition, 144 (3), 327-34 PMID: 24401817
A Crossfit Masters Athlete shares his outlook with a young Crossfit trainer at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX
We can expect to lose about 1% of our muscle strength each year after age 50. By age 65 that rate of loss increases. There are some interesting differences in the how and why of strength loss. When researchers look at strength they tend to look at static muscle strength and dynamic muscle strength. Basically static muscle strength refers to the ability to generate a force. Dynamic muscle strength basically refers to strength in which bones and tendons actually move. As people get older dynamic muscle strength suffers more than static muscle strength. Muscle power (the ability to do a strength movement quickly) also suffers. Muscle power declines faster than strict strength. This is one of the reasons why Masters Athletes, particularly Crossfit Masters Athletes, do not perform as well as younger athletes. You can tell a Masters Athlete over and over that he/she needs to move quickly in order “to get under the bar.” But, simply put, Masters Athletes are physiologically different than younger athletes. As stubborn and strong as they are, they may not be able to move their elbows any faster. At least not yet.
Don’t give up on Masters Athletes. Don’t give up in general.
Strength training can improve muscle strength and muscle power in Masters Athletes. This has been documented in short-term studies. But what about over the long haul? A recently published study sheds some light. A fairly large group of older adults (233) participated in a 1-year strength training program. Measurements were taken before and after. Researchers also evaluated the condition of 83 former participants some 7 years later. Strength and power improved in adults who completed the training. (This is hopefully no surprise). What is surprising and good news is that the adults who completed the training had better measures of strength, power and speed seven years after completing the program. Measures for everyone (trained and untrained) were lower than they had been though.
This study has its limits. It was not clear (or unknown) if subjects kept working out or not. Nor was it known how much more or less active subjects in the control group might have been. Still, it is nice to know that positive effects were seen seven years after an exercise program was completed.
Take away message:
So far research (and anecdotal evidence) indicate you should not stop working out. Trainers: keep encouraging your masters athletes.
Kennis E, Verschueren SM, Bogaerts A, Van Roie E, Boonen S, & Delecluse C (2013). Long-term impact of strength training on muscle strength characteristics in older adults. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 94 (11), 2054-60 PMID: 23831385
Masters Athletes are markedly different than other athletes. Loss of muscle mass may begin as early as the Mid-20s. And the rate of loss increases once a person passes the age of 60 or 65. Good news is that resistance training and exercise increase muscle anabolic response. Even for older people. Muscle maintenance or increase in muscle mass may be aided by additional protein intake. Especially in Masters athletes and older people in general.
Masters Athletes and Finger length ratios.
Masters Athletes. As with most things, people vary. People may be more or less likely to lose strength and muscle mass as they age. One of the factors that may be important is the amount of androgens (testosterone) an individual was exposed to before birth (Halil et al. 2013). There is not much that can be done about this now. Other than to keep working out and eating well. But it might help to know if you needed to keep more of an eye out. And take steps to protect yourself by maintaining strength and fitness. There are plenty of Masters athletes, CrossFit and otherwise, out there. We will be keeping an eye out for masters athletes during the upcoming CrossFit Games. Hopefully someone is collecting all that data.
How to tell if you are likely to lose strength or stay strong.
The ratio of the index finger to the ring finger is used as a marker for pre-natal androgen exposure. (that’s androgens, such as testosterone, before birth). The longer your index finger is than your ringer finger = the more testosterone your were exposed to before birth. New research indicates the longer your ring finger is in proportion to your index finger the stronger you are likely to be in old age. A longer ring finger is also associated with better math skills and higher risk of autism. Ratio of these fingers is also associated with bunch of other interesting things. People with longer ring fingers are more likely to be varsity athletes in college and are more likely to find success in sumo wrestling (Tamiya et al. 2012).
CrossFit workouts for people with long index fingers
If you have relatively long index fingers, don’t panic. There’s no point worrying about something you can’t change. But you can continue to do CrossFit workouts. And keep weight lifting. And being active. Resistance exercise is probably the best thing you can do.
Giffin NA, Kennedy RM, Jones ME, & Barber CA (2012). Varsity athletes have lower 2D:4D ratios than other university students. Journal of sports sciences, 30 (2), 135-8 PMID: 22132823
Halil M, Gurel EI, Kuyumcu ME, Karaismailoglu S, Yesil Y, Ozturk ZA, Yavuz BB, Cankurtaran M, & Ariogul S (2013). Digit (2D:4D) ratio is associated with muscle mass (MM) and strength (MS) in older adults: possible effect of in utero androgen exposure. Archives of gerontology and geriatrics, 56 (2), 358-63 PMID: 23219021