Muscle atrophy is the breakdown of muscle tissue. It usually happens because of inactivity from injury, taking a break from training, or from a neurological disease. Although you might not be able to stay active and train hard to preserve muscle tissue, you can slow down atrophy with careful considerations about your nutrition.
Power Up With Protein
Protein, which is made of amino acids, is the key macronutrient for building and preserving muscle tissue. According to a 2009 report from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, research shows eating more protein maintains or improves muscle mass. Additionally, a study from a 2009 edition of the journal of "Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism" found that protein consumption post-exercise had a strong correlation with a reduction in muscle atrophy.
Even if you aren’t training and are completely sedentary, you still need enough calories to preserve muscle mass. Drop your calories too low and muscle tissue will atrophy. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that sedentary women need at least 1,600 calories every day to maintain weight and men need at least 2,000 calories.
Fight Atrophy With Fat
Losing muscle mass can happen as you age, and this can be partly because of reduced testosterone levels, since testosterone aids muscle growth and retention. Low-fat diets that have less than 15 to 20 percent of calories from fat can reduce testosterone, but diets that have a moderate amount of fat-- at around 25 to 30 percent of caloric -- intake can help normalize testosterone levels, notes nutritional scientist Dr. Layne Norton. If your fat intake is currently below 15 percent, eat more healthy fats from nuts, oily fish, olive oil and seeds.
How much you can slow down, prevent, or reverse muscle atrophy depends on the severity and reason behind it. If you're able to exercise, then a strength-training program combined with adequate calories, will not only prevent atrophy, it could also cause muscle growth, known as hypertrophy. Too much hypertrophy is not a good thing, but you don’t want to let your muscles atrophy and you also want to maintain muscle tone, so some amount of hypertrophy is needed. If your atrophy is related to an injury, you'll need to work with a physiotherapist; or, if it's because of a neurological disease, then close consultation with your doctor is critical in managing your symptoms and treatment.
- Medline Plus: Muscle Atrophy
- Fight Malnutrition: Muscle Atrophy in Cachexia: Can Dietary Protein Tip the Balance?
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism: Resistance Exercise and Nutrition to Counteract Muscle Wasting
- United States Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand: Age-Related Testosterone Decline in Males
- Muscular Development: The Skinny on Dietary Fat and Testosterone