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You Need to Decide What’s Your Main Goal…
Getting Your Muscle Big or Keeping Your Muscle Young?
Apparently You Can’t Have Both.

If you follow conventional fitness guidelines- train hard and eat many protein meals throughout the day- good chance you’ll gain muscle size and strength. There is only one problem: As you get older, most likely you’ll lose all these hard gains.

The reason: Conventional fitness is not set to keep your muscle biologically young. Physical rejuvenation requires a different strategy than that of the common fitness/bodybuilding approach. And that strategy might seem as a slap in the face of all current fitness concepts. So how do you rejuvenate your muscle? And can you really keep your body biologically young?

Can You Keep Your Body Biologically Young?

Physical aging begins in your genes. Scientists identified multiple genes that regulate your physical strength and biological age, most notable among them are those involved in the sustainability of your muscle. Apparently it’s the decrease in these genes’ expression that causes your muscle to deteriorate and age.

So when does the aging process starts?

Chronological aging starts from the minute you’re born. You can’t possibly stop the clock from ticking. It’s certainly an inevitable process. But there’s also biological aging and growing evidence indicates that that kind of aging can be slowed and even reversed, particularly in the muscle tissue.

The reason: muscle aging isn’t necessarily chronological.

A sixty year old can have a muscular gene profile similar to a person thirty years old. And a thirty year old person can already be expressing genes of a sixty year old.

The purpose of this article is to present the main causes behind physical aging and reveal biological mechanisms and methods that block these causes and reverse age related physical decline.

But first let’s address some questions which need clarification…

Can Muscle Aging Start at a Young Age?

Muscle aging may start at a young age already in the third decade of life. Many young adults unknowingly suffer from symptoms of muscle aging due to physical inactivity bad diet or chronic substance abuse and these become more and more notable as time goes by. Typically as a muscle ages it loses its aerobic capacity and strength and it also loses size. This is how the vast majority of people today experience physical aging. But is it possible to stop this process?

In many respects yes. But you need to know what to do. You need to learn what mechanisms enable your muscle to resist aging and you need to know how to trigger them.

And note that your daily activities are essential in this process. How you eat, how you exercise and even how you rest, translate into gene activities which turn on mechanisms that dictate whether you age or stay young.

But first you need to understand what muscle degradation means.

Muscle Degradation

Muscle degradation is a major blow to your body. It’s associated with more than just loss of muscle size and strength…it can actually lead to a total metabolic decline.

Skeletal muscles’ biological role goes far beyond locomotion. The muscle is your largest energy facility responsible for keeping your metabolic system intact. It essentially protects you against metabolic decline, hormonal decline, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It also enhances your cognitive function and keeps your body young.

Given this, muscle degradation can lead to a major health crisis on a scale far beyond what’s commonly thought. The loss of muscle means loss of energy, a tendency to gain excess weight, vulnerability to disease and accelerated aging. Muscle degradation seems to be a major contributing factor behind the current epidemic of obesity, diabetes and related diseases.

It’s becoming evidently clear that the benefits you get from your muscular system are essential to your health. Keeping your body in shape not only makes you feel younger and stronger, it might just save your life.

So what causes your muscle to degrade?

There are many causes of muscle degradation. These include muscle misuse, insulin resistance, hormonal disorders, inflammatory disease, dietary abuse, nutritional deficiencies and chemical toxicity. Physical aging is typically associated with some of the above. But while each of these causes plays a role in physical degradation, there is growing evidence that they all relate to one underlying cause: oxidative damage by free radicals.

Oxidative damage by free radicals

Free radicals, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), are toxic by-products of metabolism. They also invade your body in the form of chemical toxins or rancid food substances. Free radicals lack subatomic particles and are consequently highly reactive as they seek to bind and destroy your cells and tissues.

To defend against these destructive particles, your body uses its endogenous antioxidants such as glutathione and SOD along with dietary antioxidants. But when the cumulative concentrations of free radicals overwhelm your body’s defenses, oxidative damage to cells and tissues start taking its toll destroying cellular proteins, lipids and DNA.

In the muscle, the accumulated oxidative damage leads to three detrimental changes:

  • loss of mitochondrial function
  • loss of fast neuro motors
  • loss of fast muscle fibers
  • Loss of mitochondrial function

The mitochondria is the energy chamber of the cell. It’s a cellular organell with its own enzymes proteins and DNA responsible for the utilization of energy for all metabolic functions. Oxidative damage in the mitochondria can be caused by a number of factors including chronic infection, chronic inflammatory disease, chemical toxicity, rancid fat and excessive sugar or fructose intake. Other contributing factors to mitochondrial impairment are muscle disuse and chronic overtraining.

One of the most common causes of mitochondrial damage is aerobic overtraining. When done chronically, it causes accumulated oxidative stress in the mitochondria with increased risk of oxidative damage. And when chronic aerobic overtraining comes along with inadequate nutrition (such as with those dieters who obsessively run on a treadmill to burn excess calories they get from a bad diet) the results could be even worse…

The combined effect of bad nutrition with bad training can be extremely destructive, and may lead over time to irreversible damage in the mitochondria along with a total metabolic decline. The consequences:

  • impaired ability to utilize carbohydrates and fat for energy
  • insulin resistance
  • lower threshold for physical exercise
  • excessive weight gain
  • accelerated aging

Loss of fast neuro-motors

Your muscle is wired with a magnificent network of neurons called the neuro-muscular system which controls all of your physical activities. But when exposed to chronic accumulated oxidative stress it tends to deteriorate. Consequently the muscle is rendered dysfunctional like an engine without an ignition.

Neuro-muscular deterioration seems to be the most notable symptom of physical aging. It involves gradual disintegration of the junctions between the nerve and muscle which leads primarily to the loss of motor units particularly the fast ones.

The loss of fast neuro-motors is highly devastating. It means loss of capacity for intense physical activities…

A motor unit (neuro-motor) is the most basic element of the neuro-muscular system – it’s a single neural fix responsible for activating one of many muscle fibers. The more intense your physical exercise is the more motor units you need to recruit. And the more motor units you lose the weaker and slower you get…

But it’s the fast motor units that you need most. The fast motor units allow you perform intense physical tasks…and unfortunately these are the first casualties of physical aging.

Your fast motor units are wired to your fast muscle fibers. Apparently, the highly geared neuro-wiring infrastructure of the fast neuro-motors is particularly prone to age-related damage…which explains why aging typically involves loss of strength and speed.

And as people lose their fast neuro-motors they lose their fast muscle fibers along with the capacity to do intense daily functions (such as climbing stairs, carrying heavy grocery bags or fast crossing the street…)

Loss of fast muscle fibers

The loss of fast muscle fibers leads to debilitating weakening of the body. Fast muscle fibers are on the top of the muscle fibers’ hierarchy. They’re critically needed in times of danger or survival necessity which require swift and strong reactions. Without fast muscle fibers you can’t survive physical adversity.

The deterioration of fast muscle fibers is the reason why older people typically suffer from muscle waste and metabolic decline. Pound for pound fast muscle fibers have the greatest capacity to gain mass and they generate three times more energy than slow muscle fibers. They’re the key to keeping your physique strong and metabolic rate intact. Yes, as you get older your fast muscle fibers become increasingly essential to your vitality.

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About Ori Hofmekler — founder of Defense Nutrition and author of The Warrior Diet, is a nutritional and fitness expert. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

One Comment

  1. Avatar for Ori Hofmekler
    Rohitha Perera-
    August 11, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Brilliant article!