My sister and I were once training together at our local gym. This fella, who must have been in his 60’s, was on the bench. He was lifting a lot and with perfect form. We were both in awe of what we were seeing. A refreshing change from teenage lads ego lifting with awful form. I mean, I can’t judge I was doing that until I was 23. This was making me think whether you can build muscle after 50.
Anyway, If I was to describe this man, he looked like a jacked version of Santa Clause.
The reason I mention this, is because a lot of people think when they hit a certain age, it’s game over. They think they’re bound to the arm chair for life.
I don’t like to sell false dreams. If you train and eat well, when you are younger, your life will be far easier, in the future. But if you are in your later 30’s, 40′, 50’s or beyond, it’s not too late. The best time to start would have been 10 years ago, the next best time to start is now.
Why muscle is important when you are older
We have this idea that muscle is a vanity metric. That it’s only useful for aesthetics. Muscle is more than something young guys use to impress women.
We joke about young guys being obsessed with muscle. I want to argue the case it should be older people who need to obsess over their muscles more.
A common argument I encounter is “Not everyone wants to be muscular”. This isn’t about looking huge. This is about living the best life you can.
People have this idea that aiming to be as muscular as possible will make you look like a freak. What they don’t realise you can only get to that sort of level with drugs. Nobody has ever called a natural weight lifter a freak of nature, it’s impossible. 99.9% of people that are paid for their physique, use drugs. This includes women too.
Risks of muscle loss
A lack of muscle mass can lead to a lot of problems. Especially as we get older. This is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia increases the risk of these happening as we age:
- Increased weakness
- Difficulties in moving
- Obesity-related diseases
I’m not saying all these issues are 100% sarcopenia related. But a decrease in muscle definitely increases the risk.
Difficulties in moving
This is why older people find it harder to do the things we take for granted. Go for long walks, play with kids and dogs and carry heavy shopping. When the muscles that stabilise you have receded. Things like moving and standing will be harder.
Obesity related diseases
When older people lose muscle, they tend to gain fat weight in its place. Due to inactivity and still eating the same amount. This means you are more at risk of getting diseases which come from obesity. So you end up more at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
To reiterate muscle is more than just aesthetics, it’s pretty damned important.
What do I need to build muscle over 50?
- Adequate protein
- Adequate nutrition
- Progressive overload when training
Adequate protein – I always laugh at how youngsters are obsessed with their protein shakes. They are the ones chugging more protein than normal. But it should be older people are “obsessed” with getting in their protein.
Older people tend to be less sensitive to protein. So aim on the higher end of 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. Split in into 4 equal servings a day if you can. So thats 0.4-5.5g of protein a meal per kg of bodyweight per day. Thats about 30-40g of protein per meal for the average guy.
Adequate nutrition – Getting enough calories is vital. If you don’t eat enough to fuel your training, you are not going to give your muscles an excuse to grow. The only exception is when you’re obese.
If you’re obese, then eat in a deficit of 15-25% calories. Otherwise, if you’re new to the training I’d recommend eating at maintenance calories. Or you can track protein only. Once progress stalls from there, you can introduce a calorie surplus. I always recommend a surplus of 10% calories.
Progressive overload when training – Same rules apply. Progressive overload and volume are essential. Increase your volume over time, to break down your muscle fibres. With adequate nutrition and protein feedings, they will without doubt grow.
How to train when trying to build muscle when over 50?
Everyone is different and will prefer a different style. This is how I’d start up a programme for an older client, unless they had specific reasons they couldn’t train like this.
Over time I’d incorporate some free weights to help improve movement and stability. But to start I’d go all machine, to get you into the motion of the movements. It also prevents the risk of injury, whilst still being able to stimulate muscles .
This programme can be done 2-3 times a week. I’d keep the sets between 3-5 and reps between 8-12. I’ve gone with higher reps, as this means you need to use a lighter weight. This also reduces injury risk. You can increase your volume within this range.
Seated chest press
Seated shoulder press
Seated low row
Can I build muscle over 50?
As you can see, you definitely can. This coupled with enough protein daily over time will give you amazing results. Most people overcomplicate the life out of things. It’s an excuse to not doing anything.
The programme is simple I outlined everything you need to do. All I can say now is, get to work.
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.