Weight loss and aging: Why it’s more difficult to lose weight with age (Part 1)

Maintaining an ideal weight is hard. It takes discipline. It takes dedication. It takes a lot of hard work. And that’s when you’re young.

Unfortunately, it gets even harder with age. By the time you’re blowing out 40 candles on your birthday, biology begins working against your weight loss efforts.

In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the features of aging that make weight loss more difficult. This is Part 1 of a 2 part series that will tell you why weight loss gets harder with age. Part 2 will cover some simple tweaks you can make to your diet and exercise routine that make weight loss over forty possible.

1) The older you are, the slower your metabolism gets

Your metabolism is the sum of all the life-sustaining chemical reactions that occur inside your body. These include the reactions that convert food to energy or building blocks for macromolecules (proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids) and those that lead to the elimination of nitrogenous wastes, which is vital for survival.

In ever day language, the word metabolism is often used as a synonym for metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy used in a given period of time. A day, for example. Metabolic rate is measured in calories. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body uses at rest.

Basal metabolic rate decreases with age by approximately 5% every ten years after 40. If your resting metabolic rate is 1,200 calories per day when you are 40, your resting metabolic rate when your 50 would be about 1,140 calories per day. At 60, your resting metabolic rate would be approximately 1,000 calories per day.

A decreasing basal metabolic rate with age means you could start eating a surplus of calories on a daily basis without any change in your eating habits or activity levels. This could lead to unwanted weight gain. For example, if your average daily intake of calories from your diet was 1,700 calories when you’re 40, you would have a 500 calorie surplus to be used as energy to fuel bodily functions and activities. Eating the same number of daily calories when you’re 50, results in a 560 calorie surplus. When you’re 60, that’s a calorie surplus of 700.

Age Basal Metabolic Rate Calorie Surplus
40 1,200 500
50 1,140 560
60 1,000 700
70 950 750
80 900 800

Based on a daily intake of 1700 calories and a basal metabolic rate of 1,200 at age 40.

2) You lose lean muscle mass with age.

As you get older, muscles decrease in size, muscle fibers begin getting replaced by fat, muscle tissue becomes more fibrotic, muscle metabolism changes, oxidative stress increases, and the neuromuscular junction degenerates. The medical term to describe these changes is sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia occurs at a rate of approximately 0.5-1% per year after the age of 50. Sarcopenia has a significant impact on weight loss with age because lean muscle drives metabolism. The more lean muscle you have the higher your resting metabolic rate is going to be. The higher your resting metabolic rate is, the more calories you’re going to burn and the easier it’s going to be to lose weight.

Sarcopenia is just one of the factors contributing to a slowing metabolism with age.

3) Hormones change with age

For men, testosterone drops as you age. Testosterone is a steroid hormone. When you’re young it plays a key role in the development of the male reproductive organs and promotes secondary sexual characteristics like increased bone and muscle mass and the growth of body hair. After puberty and into adulthood, testosterone is necessary for sperm development, it regulates the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, and it enhances muscle growth.

Decreasing testosterone levels with age in men contribute to decreasing lean muscle mass – which impacts metabolism – and less of a drive be active. Both of these factors can make weight loss more difficult for men in the later decades of life.

For women, with age comes menopause. With menopause comes changes in three hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.

Estrogen falls to a very low level after menopause. Low levels of this hormone are associated with hot flashes, night sweats, palpitations, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bone loss, and vaginal dryness – many of the symptoms generally thought of during menopause.

Progesterone production stops after menopause and testosterone levels fall.

Changes in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have profound effects on the rest of the endocrine system. After the menopause the entire hormone environment is changed. These changes affect metabolism, sleep, and activity, which all impact the ability to lose weight.

4) The consequences of bad eating habits are more pronounced

Life tends to be busier and more active when you’re young. Think about everything you did in high school: gym class during the day, extracurricular sports in the evening, walk home, walk around the mall. You were always moving.

Your twenties weren’t much different. You chase a career to a big city where walking or biking is easier than driving, you take a low paying job that requires you to run around like a chicken on cocaine, and you spend the weekends “out.” Kids may have even appeared in this decade, which makes you reconsider ever having thought you were busy before.

A busy lifestyle when you’re young and have a fresh off the car lot, new car metabolism allows you to get away with a lot. You can eat an entire pizza at 2:00 a.m. You can eat ice cream whenever you crave it. A carb heavy pasta dish isn’t going to affect you at all. And, when you want to lose weight, just about any diet works.

When middle age begins to appear on the horizon, you start slowing down. Weekends are spent with a martini on the porch visiting with your neighbour; you get promoted to a desk job where people are doing the running around for you, and you can afford that nice car and the parking spot downtown that allows you to drive to work.

Because of decreased activity, slower metabolism, sarcopenia, and hormone changes with age, little things in your diet that could be overcome when you were young start to matter once you hit 40. In middle-age, everything – good and bad – starts to count.

**

A slower metabolism, lean muscle loss, hormonal changes, and bad eating habits are the main reasons losing weight after 40 is difficult. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Next week, we’re going to cover exercise and dietary changes you can use to lose weight at any age.

Sources and further reading

“Fighting 40s Flab” – WebMD

“Weight Loss After 40” – Isagenix podcast

Common adaptogens and athletic performance

Adaptogens are a class of herbs known for their ability to boost the body’s tolerance to stress, fatigue, and sickness.

For a more in depth look into what adaptogens are and how they work, check out one of my previous articles here.

The role adaptogens play in increasing athletic performance, however, is less well known. In this article, we’re going to examine the scientific evidence surrounding some common adaptogens and their ability to improve athletic performance.

Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea)

Roseroot increases time to exhaustion and VO2 max.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. Generally, the better shape you’re in, the higher your VO2 max is going to be.

A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old male is about 42ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old female is about 32ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. To put these values in perspective, Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain’s VO2 max was reported at 88 mL of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A highly trained athlete is that much more efficient at using oxygen than the average Joe.

The time to exhaustion test is quite simple. To perform the test, the participant must maintain a certain work rate. The time to exhaustion is the time between the beginning of the test and the moment the participant can no longer maintain the required work rate.

A study consisting of 12 healthy but untrained male and female participants tested roseroot’s effect on VO2 max and time to exhaustion. Participants took either one 100 milligram dose right before VO2 max testing or took a lower dose for 4 weeks. Both dosing regimes increased VO2 max and time to exhaustion.

A second study measuring VO2 max alone, wasn’t as promising. Fourteen males took roseroot for 4 weeks prior to testing. All the men were between the ages of 18 and 29 and were well trained. In this group, the roseroot had no effect on VO2 max.

One study has measured the effects of roseroot on power output.

Power is the amount of work that can be done in a given period of time. Work is a measure of energy transfer on an object. If, for example, a person moves a block along the ground, it means that person is doing work on that block. Power would be calculated by dividing the work done on the block by time.

The study measuring VO2 max and time to exhaustion in healthy untrained males and females also measured power output. No significant changes were noted.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero is Siberian ginseng. One study conducted in 1986 concluded that taking eleuthero can increase anaerobic running capacity. Anaerobic means in the absence of oxygen. It’s the type of running that would make you out of breath, like sprinting.

The study involved 6 trained men between the ages of 18-44. They each took 4 millilitres of a concentrated liquid eleuthero herbal extract for 8 days. Then, they performed a VO2 max test. The researchers also measured time to fatigue.

The men in the study who took eleuthero for 8 days before the test had a higher VO2 max and a longer time to fatigue.

While the study is well designed, the effect wasn’t robust, and it only involved 6 people. More researched is needed to make any definitive conclusions about eleuthero and athletic performance.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

Schisandra is a plant whose berry extracts have been shown to increase circulating levels of nitric oxide in 71 male and female athletes. Nitric oxide is a molecule naturally produced by the body that increases vasodilation – blood vessels widen to increase blood flow.

The men and women involved in the study took Schisandra prior to competition and the authors measured circulating nitric oxide in the athlete’s saliva. Based on this measurement, nitric oxide increased as a result of the supplement.

Maral (Rhaponticum carthamoides) root

Rhaponticum carthamoides is a plant source of ecdysteroids and is commonly referred to as Maral Root or Russian Leuzea. Ecdysteroids are a type of steroid hormone widely marketed to athletes as a dietary supplement. They’re advertised as being able to increase strength and muscle mass as well as reduce fatigue and ease recovery.

Rats fed 50mg/kg of ecdysone over the course of 28 days had a grip strength that was 18% stronger than the group that was not given any ecdysone. Grip strength or power output after rhaptonticum carthamoides supplementation has not been assessed in humans.

Adaptogens have a long scientific history of reducing fatigue and helping the body adapt to stress. Research into adaptogens increasing athletic performance is less mature. Despite the relative infancy of the field, the documented safety of common adaptogens like roseroot, eleuthero, Schisandra, and Rhaponticum carthomoides make them a worthy candidate for the supplement stack of anyone trying to bust through a plateau or reach a new personal best.

Sources and further reading

Roseroot

Eleuthero

Schisandra

Rhaponticum carthamoides

 

 

 

 

Taurine: Frequently Asked Questions

Taurine is an organic acid found in large amounts in the brain, retina, and blood. It is a “conditional amino acid”, meaning it can be manufactured by the body when insufficient amounts are ingested from the diet.

Taurine has many different functions throughout the body and several uses in modern medicine. For example, it acts as a stabilizer of cell membranes and helps out a few different anti-oxidant defense systems; it is used to treat congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and liver disease; it is used in seizure disorders, autism, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder; and supplementation has been shown to improve performance in athletes. Some are a direct result of the actions of taurine, others occur through taurine’s influence on other molecules.

With so many different effects and applications, it’s easy to get confused trying to sort out what taurine does, and what it doesn’t do.

With this article, I’m going to tackle some of the most frequently asked questions about taurine.

If you’re looking for some general information about taurine and taurine supplementation, check out this previous article of mine.

#1: Is taurine a stimulant?

A stimulant refers to a compound that increases the activity of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), that is pleasurable and invigorating, or stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.

On its own, taurine doesn’t seem to be a stimulant because it doesn’t fit these criteria.

While some studies have shown improvements in athletic performance and exercise capacity, this is likely occurring through taurine’s capacity as an antioxidant and membrane stabilizer, or through some function of taurine that hasn’t quite been identified yet.

Taurine is sometimes mistaken as a stimulant because a few studies have suggested taurine combined with caffeine improves mental performance. And because you’ll often find taurine listed as an ingredient in energy drinks.

#2: Is taurine a diuretic?

A diuretic is a compound that increases the production of urine.

It’s a little unclear as to whether taurine is a diuretic or not. I was able to find two studies saying it is, but one was done in hamsters and the other was super small.

The one study that was done in humans involved 8 patients with damage to their livers from liver disease. These patients had taurine added to their i.v. bag one day, had their urine volume measured, then had extra saline added to their i.v. bag the next day to serve as their own control.

A study with a sample size this small, which only included people with advanced liver disease, doesn’t allow you to draw too many conclusions. So, for now, the jury is still out on whether taurine is a diuretic.

#3: Is taurine a sleep aid?

In short, no.

Taurine is involved in the creation of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and it increases in the body with long periods of being awake. It also activates GABA(A) receptors in a region of the brain associated with sleep regulation.

These properties have led people to think that taurine is useful as a sleep aid.

However, the only study with good results suggesting taurine was useful for promoting sleep was done in fruit flies.

Studies done in rats showed minimal effects and the one study involving people didn’t show good results either.

#4: Can you take taurine before bed?

Taurine on its own is not a stimulant. So, yes, it can be taken before bed without any risk of disrupting your sleep.

Do be careful about other ingredients that might be appearing alongside taurine though. Often you’ll find taurine in energy drinks or pre-workout supplements, which contain caffeine and other stimulants that may make it difficult to fall asleep.

#5: Does taurine help with stress?

Taurine can be found in many different regions of the brain and can be taken in by neurons. In people, taurine levels found in the blood are related to depression.

One study examined the effect of taurine supplementation on chronically stressed rats.

The researchers supplemented rats with taurine before stress and measured changes in depression-like behavior, hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammatory factors, and neurotrophic factors.

The animals given taurine had decreased depression-like behaviors and displayed beneficial changes in many of the hormones and other factors measured. Based on the changes the researchers observed, they concluded that taurine may be involved in regulating the HPA axis (the master regulator of the stress response).

While these results have not been tested in humans, taurine does seem pretty promising in being able to help the brain cope with stress.

Conclusion

Taurine is found in many different parts of the body. Because it is so widespread, it plays many different roles in human physiology. Some science has discovered and characterized already, many remain active areas of research.

What do we know taurine does? Taurine is an antioxidant, it stabilizes cell membranes, it improves athletic performance and exercise capacity, it is beneficial for mental performance when combined with caffeine, it can safely be taken before bed, and it likely helps with stress management.

What doesn’t taurine do? Taurine is not a stimulant, it doesn’t seem to be a diuretic, and it is not a sleep aid.

Do you use taurine in your supplement stack? Have you had any personal experiences with it that don’t line up with what’s published about it in the science world? Let me know about it in the comments below. And please subscribe to the blog to get updates when new articles are posted!

Sources and further reading

Effect Of Taurine Supplementation On Exercise Capacity Of Patients With Heart Failure

The Effect Of Acute Taurine Ingestion On Endurance Performance And Metabolism In Well-trained Cyclists

A taurine and caffeine-containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well-being

Taurine-induced diuresis and natriuresis in cirrhotic patients with ascites.

Effect of taurine and caffeine on sleep-wake activity in Drosophila melanogaster.

Effect of taurine on ethanol-induced sleep time in mice genetically bred for differences in ethanol sensitivity.

Effect of caffeine and taurine on simulated laparoscopy performed following sleep deprivation.

Antidepressant effect of taurine in chronic unpredictable mild stress-induced depressive rats.

How much protein do you need before bed to increase muscle size and strength?

Resistance exercise – like lifting free weights, using a weight machine, or doing bodyweight exercises – breaks down muscle. And, at the same time, stimulates it to get stronger and bigger.

The balance between muscle degradation and the stimulus to get bigger and stronger is delicate and can be modified by things like your diet.

It has been known for a long time that eating or drinking protein immediately after exercise tips the balance in favor of getting bigger and stronger.

A new area of research is looking at the effect ingesting protein before sleep has on lean muscle gains.

Lots of muscle recovery and adaptation happens while you are asleep. Pre-sleep protein is a strategic time to increase overall protein intake and prime your body for maximal strength and size gains.

The effect pre-sleep protein has on overnight muscle protein synthesis

The rate of muscle protein synthesis tends to be lower at night compared to in the morning. Taking a protein supplement right before bed increases overnight muscle protein synthesis, which may be a good way to boost your net muscle protein synthesis rate.

Especially if you do some resistance exercise in the evening too.

Two studies, both coming out of the laboratory of Dr. Luc van Loon at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, tell us what we really need to know to take advantage of this concept.

The first study was done in 2012. The researchers took sixteen healthy young males, got them to do a single session of resistance-type exercise (i.e. lifting weights), gave them proper post-workout nutrition (20g of protein and 60g of carbohydrates), and then split the participants into two groups.

One group got 40g of protein 30 minutes before bed and the other was given a placebo.

The group that took protein before bed had higher rates of muscle protein synthesis.

The second study came along in 2017. This time more participants were used and a different amount of pre-sleep protein was given to the participants.

The structure of the study was the exact same: single session of resistance-type exercise, post-workout nutrition, and split into two groups, one getting protein before bed and the other getting placebo.

The difference: 30g of protein this time around.

This time the researchers did not see an increase in muscle protein synthesis rates in the group given a protein supplement 30 minutes before bed.

The long-term effects of pre-sleep protein on muscle mass and strength gains

Increasing muscle protein synthesis overnight is good, but, if you’re anything like me, maybe your curious what the long-term consequences would be.

Dr. van Loon covered this too.

In his 2015 study he put 44 young men on a 12-week resistance exercise training program. One group got protein before bed and the other got a placebo.

The group that ingested protein before bed experienced greater improvements in muscle strength and greater increases in muscle size compared to the group that got the placebo.

How much protein do you need and when?

When figuring out how much protein you need before bed to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, we really only have these three studies to rely on.

In the first study (2012) looking at muscle protein synthesis overnight, 40g of protein did the trick.

In the second study (2017), 30g of protein was not enough to increase muscle protein synthesis.

The long-term study used 27.5g of protein before bed and saw increased muscle strength and size.

What’s going on here?

The discrepancy between the 2017 study and the long-term study is a little confusing. Based on what we know, you can’t have an increase in muscle strength and size without having an increase in muscle protein synthesis.

However, the 2017 study and the long-term study seem to be suggesting just that. On the surface.

What may actually be happening here might just be due to math. Researchers must rely on something called statistical significance, which allows a person to attach a probability to the chances of them being right or wrong about something.

Just because the researchers in the 2017 study didn’t observe a statistically significant difference between the pre-sleep protein group and the placebo group doesn’t mean nothing was happening. The difference in muscle protein synthesis rate just might not have been large enough to reach that magic number.

If we choose to believe that pre-sleep protein before bed increases muscle protein synthesis rate, the results of the long-term study allow us to conclude that small increases over a long period of time will result in increased muscle strength and size.

Based on these studies, I would say you need at least 30g of protein 30 minutes before bed to experience muscle strength and muscle size gains.

30g of protein is about 4 ounces of lean ground beef or chicken breast. 5 ounces of salmon. Eight large egg whites. Or, a scoop and a half of a good protein supplement.

Conclusion

These studies conducted by Dr. van Loon in the Netherlands suggest that taking protein 30 minutes before you sleep will increase muscle protein synthesis and lead to increased muscle strength and size after at least 12 weeks of resistance training.

Based on these studies, I would say you need at least 30g of protein within 30 minutes of bedtime to experience these benefits.

What we still don’t know is the effectiveness of different types of protein (supplement versus food, for example) and how critical of a rule 30 minutes before bedtime is. Would an hour be better? Worse? The same?

As researchers look into this more and more we will get these answers one day. Until then, this is what we have to go on.

Have you tried protein before you go to sleep? Notice any changes in strength or muscle size? Let me know in the comments below.

Sources

Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery.

Presleep dietary protein-derived amino acids are incorporated in myofibrillar protein during postexercise overnight recovery

Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men.

Do you need carbohydrates? A nutritional panel weighs in.

We are all trying to find an edge, something that will take us and our performance to the next level.

That edge takes the form of supplements. It takes the form of new training regimes. It takes the form of sport psychology.

It also takes the form of diet.

We have become increasingly aware of the intimate link between the types of food ingested and its impact on performance.

Scientific studies on the ketogenic diet and low carb diets have exponentially increased in the past 10 years. While research has undoubtedly added to the growing body of knowledge regarding how the body metabolizes different sources of fuel and what the human body needs to function optimally, it has also muddied the waters.

Some scientists believe we’ve become so enamored with the next big thing in the diet world, that we’ve forgotten what we’ve already known for centuries: carbohydrates are essential for optimal physical performance.

Carbs are essential is a conclusion drawn by an expert panel who convened in 2018 to discuss the latest science on macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) needs for physical activity.

The panel consisted of Dr. Lawrence Spriet from the University of Guelph – a prolific researcher who studies the role of diet on exercise performance; Dr. Janet Rankin from Virginia Tech – a leader in the application of sports nutrition research and principles; Dr. Katherine Beals from the University of Utah – a certified specialist in sports dietetics; and Dr. Bob Murray – a former Gatorade Sports Science Institute director and researcher and lecturer in the area sports nutrition.

The panel agreed on the necessity of carbohydrates for physical performance, especially for high intensity exercise.

Do you do high intensity exercise? Then you need carbohydrates in your diet

More people than ever are doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and other forms of high intensity exercise. It cracked many published lists as one of the top fitness trends for 2019.

High intensity training allows you to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time, it increases your metabolic rate for hours after you’ve finished working out, it is associated with increased fat loss, and it can reduce heart rate and blood pressure. These are just a few of the known benefits.

High intensity exercise requires lots of energy.

Energy in the body is supplied in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

ATP is the biological molecule used by cells of your body as energy to do work. That work may be building new structures, breaking down old structures, and making your muscles move.

Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates can all be used to generate ATP to do work. How they get there is different for each macronutrient.

Proteins are used to generate ATP as a last resort.

The path to ATP from protein looks like this:

Protein –> Amino acids –> Keto acid –> Acetyl-CoA

Acetyl-CoA sugar is then used to generate ATP.

The path from fat to ATP looks something like this:

Fat –> Free fatty acid –> Acetyl-CoA

Finally, the path from carbohydrates to ATP:

Sugar –> Pyruvate –> Acetyl-CoA

High intensity exercise requires the use of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are capable of breaking down proteins and fats to generate ATP, but they prefer carbohydrates because it is the only macronutrient broken down fast enough to support high-intensity exercise.

If you work out at a high intensity regularly, you definitely need carbohydrates.

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body. You can find it in the liver and in muscle.

Glycogen stores in fast-twitch muscles are the primary source of fuel during high-intensity exercise.

Data suggest that most athletes do not eat enough carbohydrates after they exercise to fully replenish glycogen stores.

If you don’t replenish glycogen stores, you end up with low glycogen in your muscle, your muscle has less fuel to generate ATP, and you cannot perform at your best.

The panel referred to a serious competitor who trained for four hours a day or more. They cited this competitor’s carbohydrate needs at a whopping 3,800 carbohydrate calories per day as required to maintain a high level of performance for an extended period of time.

Most of us don’t fall into this category of strenuous competition, but if you’re are an avid exerciser and doing high-intensity workouts on a regular basis, you are probably not fully replenishing your glycogen stores between workouts and your performance could be suffering as a result.

If you’re an avid exerciser doing high-intensity workouts on a regular basis and you’re on a low carb diet, your performance is definitely suffering during your workouts. You need carbohydrates to perform at your best.

How much carbohydrates do you need in your diet?

The panel of experts suggested 5-7 g/kg bodyweight for moderate exercisers and up to 8-12 g/kg bodyweight for very heavy exercisers.

Immediately before exercise and during exercise, high-carbohydrate foods and beverages are best. These are rapidly absorbed and provide muscles with the energy they need to maintain high-intensity performance.

Immediately after exercise, carbohydrate rich foods that can be quickly digested and absorbed can alter the hormonal environment in the body to support glycogen resynthesis.

Conclusion

The recent popularity of the ketogenic diet has led to many people avoiding carbohydrates in their diet. As more studies are conducted, research is synthesized, and critically evaluated the expert panel who convened in 2018 think we are going to relearn something about carbohydrates that we’ve known for decades: that they are essential for supporting high-intensity performance.

References and further reading

High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance