How to Maintain Muscle Mass in Mid-Life

Male gym fitness workout


A question often asked by my patients is “How do I build muscle now that I am 55?” But what are they really asking? Are they feeling weak? Are they concerned about their appearance? Weakness will require further investigation by a doctor to investigate if there is a serious health conditions causing the weakness. If there are no other symptoms that would warrant further medical examination, then it’s likely just middle age body changes.

Building and maintaining muscle becomes more difficult as we age, but it is not impossible. In my book Second Chance at Health-Learn to Love Active Living and Clean Eating, I discuss exercise plans that can help you maintain muscle mass. I also have suggestions about diet changes that can prevent muscle loss during weight loss.

Read on to discover how our bodies change at middle age.

Physical Changes as We Age

There are many physical changes that occur during middle age. These include decreased muscle mass and an increase in body fat deposits. These changes occur as early as age 40. Ensuring an active lifestyle and a clean diet can delay the inevitable! Muscle mass loss is a natural process and loss of strength and functionality can come along with it. Maintaining muscle mass in middle age is important. It can help us move into our senior years with a decreased risk for injury. The increase in body fat can make it appear that we have less muscle than we actually do!

While there is no recommendation for a certain weight of muscle mass there is a recommendation for body fat. Increased body fat can result in an increased risk for many chronic conditions. I discuss the most common ones at length in my book Second Chance at Health: Learn to Love Active Living and Clean Eating that is going to be available mid August 2018, so make sure to pre-order!

Body Fat Percentage

Appropriate body fat percentages vary based on age and sex. They typically range from between 8%-19.9% for middle age males and 23%-33.9% for females.  Middle age men and women often exceed those body fat percentages. I work in an industry that is largely male. I am often asked for advice on building muscle after they reach 55 years old. They usually expect me to tell them to take protein supplements and go to the gym to bulk up, but that is not what I tell them.

What I tell them is that they have enough muscle! It’s just all covered up with excess body fat! I recommend that we determine  their body composition using the Tanita scale. The Tanita scale gives a reading of body fat percentage along with a recommended percentage, and when the body fat is within normal limits the muscle that is there is more readily visible which is really what people want.

If  numbers reveal a high body fat percentage, then decreasing the body fat will reveal the muscles! Yes, muscle mass in middle age will tend to decrease due to changes in hormones; this affects both males and females, but the higher body fat will give the appearance of even less muscle.


Intense reduction of body fat is common in for body builders. Body builders call it shredding and most often this is done through serious dietary restriction. However, if you are not a body builder, the best diet that I have found to lose body fat almost effortlessly is the ketogenic diet. Ketogenic diets are eating plans that utilize high fat, low carbohydrate and adequate protein amount.

This diet is will induce nutritional ketosis, which forces the body to mobilize fat for energy needs. This eating plan was initially formulated to manage refractory seizures. It was subsequently found to have other benefits including managing excess fat stores in healthy adults. This plan is another option for middle-aged adults struggling with increased fat stores that occur due to hormone changes. Clean foods are the best options to eat when choosing this plan. The specific percentages for the macronutrients counted in a ketogenic diet. Specifically the fat, protein and carbohydrates will vary depending on your gender, age, height, weight and weight loss goal.

Maintaining Muscle Mass

To maintain muscle mass during weight loss it is important to monitor muscle mass weekly with the Tanita scale. A calorie reduced diet without enough protein can result in the body using the muscle mass for energy rather than the fat stores. If this happens, the Tanita scale data will show a stall in  fat loss and the weight loss is from muscle mass loss.

This can be remedied by consuming an increased amount of protein. This means move to the 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram range or about 20 grams of protein a day. These additional protein calories will allow your body to access the stored fat for energy rather than utilizing its own muscle mass. You can choose lean animal protein, or protein shakes which are a convenient way to get the additional protein. Just watch out for them if they also have a high carbohydrate content- check the nutrition label.

Decreasing the amount of cardio exercise that one is doing can also stop the body’s consumption of muscle mass for energy while on a calorie restricted diet. When on a calorie restricted diet, limiting cardio/aerobic exercise to 30 minutes is adequate. Bodyweight calisthenics is a fantastic method to maintain muscle mass, strength and tone in middle age.

If muscle building remains to be a goal, then diet higher in protein along with a body building work out plan with weights. This type of information is beyond the scope of my expertise, and I recommend that you consult a personal trainer who is educated in body building for the middle age person.

Adequate Protein to Maintain Muscle

For those just wanting to maintain muscle mass in middle age it is important to eat adequate protein. Ensure to eat .8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. If you are already losing muscle, increase it to 1.2 -1.5 grams per kilogram per day. The protein should be high quality, clean protein that is low to medium fat. Ensuring that you get enough vitamin D has also been shown in studies to be important in muscle mass maintenance.

As a middle aged person revealing your muscle mass by losing the excess body fat and maintaining what you have is better for your health!

You can purchase my book and discover the BEST diet and exercise plans today!

Click the link: Buy My BOOK!


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  3. Good article!
    I have over a decade to go before I will be approaching my 40’s, but still… I don’t intend to become fat and out of shape just because I become a middle aged man haha…

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