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A Functional Medicine Doc Shares The No. 1 Myth About Building Lean Muscle

Jamie Schneider
Author:
October 14, 2023
Jamie Schneider
Senior Beauty & Lifestyle Editor
By Jamie Schneider
Senior Beauty & Lifestyle Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Senior Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Woman Lifting 3 Pound Weights Outdoor
Image by Studio Firma / Stocksy
October 14, 2023
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As strength training finally gets its flowers, more and more people start to realize that the exercise plan won’t automatically make you “bulk up.” (You can read more about that myth here.) Nor does it mean you must pound protein shakes and commit to bland, grilled chicken to fit a certain mold. 

The image associated with weight training is increasingly blurred (largely in part to more women entering the space), yet according to functional medicine doctor Gabrielle Lyon, D.O., we still have one misconception to shatter: Women over 50 cannot drastically improve their fitness. 

“[Women] think they can't achieve great body composition through menopause,” Lyon tells us on the mindbodygreen podcast. But this could not be more false—below, Lyon busts the common myth and provides a few muscle-building tips. 

The myth about building muscle & menopause 

Here’s the thing: It may be harder to build muscle in your 50s—but it’s not impossible. Let’s paint the picture, shall we? With age, our bodies become less efficient at digesting and absorbing protein; as a result, we lose muscle mass and strength. And menopause makes things even more complicated: During both perimenopause and menopause, estrogen levels start to plummet, which leads to a decrease in muscle mass and function

That being said, it’s crucial to stay on top of your lean muscle mass as you age, with adequate protein intake and strength training. And, sure, your body might not appear as tightly toned as it did in your 20s, but that doesn’t mean you won’t notice any gains. 

“When you are adding in resistance training, some kind of high-intensity training, and making sure that your nutrition is really dialed in, you can achieve a great body composition regardless of your phase in life, regardless if you have hormones on board or not,” Lyon shares. “I believe it because I've seen it.” 

How to stay strong 

Again, building muscle as you grow older is totally possible, but it certainly takes a bit more work. These tips below should help you along your strength training journey: 

  • Use kettlebells: "I will do some kind of kettlebell activity, whether it's a carry, swing, or a Turkish get-up. I will also do a push-press or some kind of squat with kettlebells," Lyon says. Not only do kettlebell exercises help build lean muscle, but they also work on your grip strength, which can significantly enhance your quality of life as you age. 
  • Use resistance bands: According to dietitian and fitness coach Holly Baxter, resistance bands are generally helpful for women looking to build muscle. “We are more fatigue-resistant,” Baxter says regarding women, which is why we may benefit more from drop sets (which calls for lifting weights until you can’t anymore) and blood flow restriction. Consider restricting blood flow to certain muscle groups via resistance bands (like these BFR Booty Bands ). 
  • Get enough protein: Of course, you’ll want to give those muscles the amino acids they need in order to grow. Leading protein and amino acid requirements researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., previously told mindbodygreen that getting around 100 grams a day is a solid goal for most women. That may sound like a lot, but here are some tips for hitting that benchmark each day. 

The takeaway 

The biggest myth about building muscle? That it’s impossible after you reach 50 or so. According to Lyon, starting early may be easier, but it’s never too late to hop on the bandwagon. Looking for a full training program to reference? Check out these trainer-approved moves

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