If you want to start bodybuilding after age 30, making small changes to your workout and diet can help you get the gains you are looking for while still keeping you safe. These changes will allow you to increase muscle definition, gain muscle mass and lose body fat.
Bodybuilding After 30 Is Possible
The most challenging part of bodybuilding after 30 is that it gets harder to build muscle as you age. A 2015 article in Ageing Research Reviews showed that you can lose the balance between muscle building and muscle breakdown during aging. Biochemical and molecular alterations help mediate this change, though scientists are only scratching the surface of this research.
If you want to begin bodybuilding, start gaining as much muscle mass as possible before age 40. Resistance exercises like weightlifting give you an excellent option, but you will need to work as smart and as hard as possible. Increasing your training volume will give you the greatest anabolic effects.
For a bodybuilder with a busy schedule, there are specialized strategies that can help you save time. Doing dropsets, for example, will help you easily reach that goal. With this technique, you keep exercising with a lower weight when you fail at a higher weight. Dropsets can quickly increase training volume and thus cause even greater gains.
Follow a Reasonable Diet
You can't gain mass and lose fat without following a well-balanced diet. You may have neglected your diet when you were younger, but you need to make better choices now. For example, you should consume the right combination of macronutrients — carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Equally important, you'll want to get enough micronutrients — vitamins and minerals.
You may not need as many calories as you get older. For example, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that active Americans eat 200 calories less in their 30s than they did in their 20s. This essential strategy of energy restriction will help you gain definition as you cut fat.
Building and Cutting
Bodybuilders typically work through building and cutting cycles. The American Council on Exercise describes a year-long periodization program which begins with workouts designed by Arnold Schwarzenegger for muscle definition and growth. The year ends with a recovery and rest phase which gives you an opportunity to cut down your body fat.
You can make each phase as long as you want, but you will have to change your diet in each phase. For example, eat more during the building phase and less during the cutting phase.
Change Your Macronutrients
Protein: Getting enough protein remains critical for building muscle in your 30s since it becomes harder to trigger anabolic processes as you get older. Starting at age 30, it's important to control physical activity and diet quality to make sure that your body properly uses protein. You can gain more health benefits by increasing your protein intake. In fact, taking in two to three times the recommended daily allowance of protein during calorie cutting can increase muscle mass.
Carbohydrates: You can decrease your carbohydrate intake during the cutting phase, but you may not want to cut them in the building phase. A 2018 paper in Nutrients showed that middle-aged adults following a low-carbohydrate diet showed decreases in exercise performance and unhealthy cholesterol levels after a few years. The negative effects on performance can appear within a few weeks in this age group. Using periodization can help you prevent these potential problems.
Fat: Incorporate more good fat in your diet during the building phase. A diet rich in healthy fats like omega-3s keeps your testosterone levels high helping you fight the age-related decrease in this anabolic hormone. In contrast, follow a low-fat diet during the cutting phase. Athletes wanting to lose body fat should get between 0.5 and 1 grams of fat for each kilogram of body weight.
Increase Your Metabolism
Your aerobic capacity begins to decline at age 30. A major reason for this change is a decrease in metabolically active muscle mass and an increase in metabolically inactive body fat. Thus, adding muscle gives you an easy way to increase your metabolism. Each pound of muscle you gain will enhance your resting metabolism by 5 calories each day.
There are several ways to boost your metabolism. For example, a 2019 report in Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry showed that eight sessions of endurance exercise during a 3-week period increased the metabolism of middle-aged men.
Nutritional supplements like caffeine also increase metabolism in this age group. A 2017 article in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology showed that a single dose of caffeine triggered ketogenesis for several hours in healthy adults. This change in metabolism was twice that expected from an overnight fast.
Combine Treatments to Increase Metabolism
Combining aerobic exercise with resistance training also positively affects your metabolism, according to a 2014 paper in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry. Doing that combination twice a week for six months increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF, in middle-aged women. This protein regulates your metabolism by making you feel full.
Read more: 10 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism
Take Care of Your Joints
Aging causes changes in joint cartilage which could lead to an injury or disease. To manage this change, you should gradually decrease your training volume as you get older. Removing single-joint exercises such as leg extensions and biceps curls from your routine can help you reach this goal. This strategy decreases joint stress and fatigue without sacrificing your hard-earned gains.
Other ways to take care of your joints include:
- Natural treatments like curcumin (to help decrease inflammation and pain)
- Strategic heating and icing
- Proper technique
Focus on Muscle Definition
Age-related decreases in testosterone levels begin at age 30 in men. Women have lower levels of testosterone, but a slow, steady age-related decline happens in them at this age, too. This decline will decrease your muscle mass making it harder to bulk up as you get older. However, you can compensate for a lack of muscle mass by focusing on muscle definition while aging.
Bodybuilders value muscle definition as much as body composition and muscle mass. You can increase muscle definition by doing rapid isotonic contractions. Examples of these movements include explosive jumps and leaps.
Read more: How to Gain Muscle Definition
Use Natural Supplements
The age-related decrease in testosterone can lead to anabolic resistance in older adults. In this state, your body may be less responsive to amino acids. Thus, the abundant intake of essential amino acids is critical to preventing age-related muscle loss. A diet rich in animal proteins — meat and fish — will give you these important nutrients.
Vegetarians and vegans can avoid animal products by making sure they get all the essential amino acids with their diet. The website www.aminoacidstudies.org describes these amino acids and the doses you need each day. You can also take dietary aids featuring amino acids.
Older bodybuilders can benefit from these supplements. A 2016 paper in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition tested the impact of branched-chain amino acids, BCAAs, during eight weeks of caloric restriction. Daily doses of 28 grams of BCAAs decreased body fat while keeping muscle mass intact. The supplement also increased muscle strength.
Value Rest and Recovery
Bodybuilders often experience overtraining syndrome from not getting enough rest between workouts, and older adults seem more vulnerable to this condition. It has several symptoms including alterations to your hormone and immune systems. You will also notice diminishing returns on your workouts, chronic fatigue and poor mood. These changes typically disappear with two weeks of rest.
You can avoid overtraining syndrome by using the least amount of resistance exercise needed to reach the desired effect. You will need longer to recover from weightlifting now than when you were younger, so showing restraint in the weight room will aid healing.
Erring on the side of caution will also help you decrease your risk of harm. People in their 30s are more prone to injury and more likely to have a pre-existing condition. Injuries are particularly damaging since aging increases rehabilitation time.
Know Your Risks
Working out several hours a day puts great stress on your body. Aging adds to this stress. A 2016 article in the Journal of Sports Medicine shows that your risk of infection increases in a period lasting up to 72 hours after intense exercise.
Many bodybuilders continue to work out during this window. Older adults already have an increased risk, so that choice changes the risk for illness to a risk for disease. Having a strong plan will help you lower your risk of illness, injury and disease. It will also let you enjoy the many rewards of bodybuilding at any age.
- Preventive Medicine Reports: Use of Periodization in Exercise Prescriptions for Inactive Adults
- Ageing Research Reviews: Sarcopenia—The Search for Emerging Biomarkers
- Clinical Nutrition: Muscle Loss
- Sports Medicine: Volume for Muscle Hypertrophy and Health Outcomes
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
- American Council on Exercise: Yearly Workout Plan
- ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: Food and Fitness for Older, Active Adults?
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Dietary Guidelines Should Reflect New Understandings About Adult Protein Need
- Harvard Health Publishing: How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?
- European Journal of Sport Science: Considerations for Protein Intake in Managing Weight Loss in Athletes
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Impact of a 6-Week Non-Energy-Restricted Ketogenic Diet on Physical Fitness, Body Composition and Biochemical Parameters in Healthy Adults
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: ISSN Exercise & Sports Nutrition Review Update: Research & Recommendations
- NCBI: Nestle Nutrition Institute Workshop Series: Physical Exercise as Therapy for Frailty
- American Council on Exercise: 8 Things to Know About Aerobic Capacity (and How to Improve It)
- Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry: Eight Sessions of Endurance Training Decrease Fasting Glucose and Improve Glucose Tolerance in Middle-Aged Overweight Males
- Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry: Effects of Combined Exercise on Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Serum BDNF Level in Mid-Aged Women
- Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology: Caffeine Intake Increases Plasma Ketones
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Articular Cartilage Aging-Potential Regenerative Capacities of Cell Manipulation and Stem Cell Therapy
- Sports Medicine: Review of the Acute Effects and Long-Term Adaptations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises During Resistance Training
- Histology and Histopathology: Age-Related Degeneration of Articular Cartilage in the Pathogenesis of Osteoarthritis
- Biogerontology: Amino Acids and Amino Acid Sensing
- Virginia Tech: Get the Facts: Veggies & Protein
- AminoAcidStudies.org: What Are The 8 Essential Amino Acids?
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: In a Single-Blind, Matched Group Design: Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation and Resistance Training Maintains Lean Body Mass During a Caloric Restricted Diet
- European Journal of Endocrinology: Individual Testosterone Decline and Future Mortality Risk in Men
- Journals of Gerontology: Bioavailable Testosterone Linearly Declines Over a Wide Age Spectrum in Men and Women From the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging
- Radiology: Multiparametric MR Imaging of Age-Related Changes in Healthy Thigh Muscles
- Journal of Physical Education and Sport: Analysis of the Morphological Changes in Beginning Bodybuilders Due to Resistance Training
- Ovidius University Annals: Development of Back Muscles Strength by Alternating Grips During the Same Exercise in Performance Bodybuilding
- Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine: Diagnosis and Prevention of Overtraining Syndrome
- JAGS: Prolonged Recovery to a Single Session of High-Intensity Interval Training in Older Men
- Journal of Sport Rehabilitation: Old Problem
- Journal of Sports Medicine: Plasma Cytokine Profiles in Long-Term Strenuous Exercise
- Journal of Physiology: Synchronous Deficits in Cumulative Muscle Protein Synthesis and Ribosomal Biogenesis Underlie Age‐Related Anabolic Resistance to Exercise in Humans
- Frontiers in Physiology: Muscle Specific miRNAs Are Induced by Testosterone and Independently Upregulated by Age
- Nutrients: Three-Year Chronic Consumption of Low-Carbohydrate Diet Impairs Exercise Performance and Has a Small Unfavorable Effect on Lipid Profile in Middle-Aged Men