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Eating Habits Weakening Your Muscles After 50, Say Dietitians

These common habits could be decimating your hard work in the gym.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Getting older can be a blessing and a curse. While you may be wiser and more confident, the physical changes that come along with aging can be difficult—and they don't discriminate.

For many people over 50, that means not only a host of new aches and pains but also a more difficult time maintaining the hard-earned progress you've made in the gym. That said, just because you're getting older doesn't have to mean a loss of muscle tone is inevitable.

Read on to discover which eating habits could be weakening your muscles, according to experts. And for some other eating patterns you'd be wise to follow, check out these Nutrition Tips Everyone Should Follow After 50, Say Dietitians.

You don't eat enough protein at breakfast

cinnamon toast on white plate
Shutterstock / Joshua Resnick

If you want to build—and keep—adequate muscle tone over 50, eating enough protein is crucial. However, experts say that it's not just the type of protein you eat, but when you eat that protein, that you should consider.

"We tend to get enough total protein throughout the day, but it's key to spread it out evenly as we can only utilize 25 to 35 grams at a time for muscle growth and repair. If you miss out at breakfast, you can't double up at dinner to make up for it," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. She notes that you can get approximately 20 grams of protein at breakfast from eating three eggs, about ¾ cup of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, or a quarter-cup serving of protein powder.

 20 Ways to Get 20 Grams of Protein at Every Meal

You don't eat the right combination of amino acids in plant-based meals

Rice and beans

Adopting a plant-based or low-meat diet doesn't mean muscle loss is inevitable—but if you want to keep those hard-earned gains, it's essential that you're getting the right combination of amino acids to support them.

"Animal products and some plant foods are considered complete proteins in that they provide the consumer with all nine essential amino acids. These are the amino acids that cannot be made by the body and must be consumed," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements.

"If a plant-based dieter is not consuming these amino acids regularly through complete protein sources, they could struggle with muscle gain and other health issues. Some plant food combinations can form complete proteins like beans and rice. Quinoa is also a complete protein source on its own," Best adds.

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You don't consume enough carnitine

steak and potatoes on a plate

It's not just plant-based amino acids that make a major difference in your muscle maintenance, however.

"Not getting enough carnitine, an amino acid found mainly in animal products, can contribute to muscle loss," says registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Archer RDN, CLT, CHWC, author of An Integrative & Functional Nutrition Approach to ADHD Management.

"Studies in older adults show carnitine plays a role in energy production and muscle growth as well as improved cognition."

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You don't consume enough foods with vitamin D


It's not sunshine alone that contributes to your vitamin D intake—the right foods are essential for getting adequate muscle-building vitamin D in your diet after 50.

"Low levels of vitamin D may be linked to high parathyroid hormone levels, which is associated with muscle loss. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 600 IU for adults between 50 and 70, and 800 IU for adults over 70. Vitamin D-rich foods include salmon, sardines, mushrooms, cod liver oil, and fortified foods like orange juice, soymilk, and cereal," says Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN, LDN, a nutrition specialist at Health Canal.

 The Worst Side Effect of Not Getting Enough Vitamin D, Says Science

You overeat

Elderly man eating hamburger in living room with smiling face

It's not just eating the wrong foods that may contribute to your lack of muscle tone. Experts say that eating too much food—even if it's healthy food—can obliterate your muscles over time.

"Excess body fat produces compounds that cause muscle inflammation and contribute to its breakdown," says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Hormones, Health, and Happiness.

You don't eat enough

older woman who is not feeling hungry looking at plates of food
Shutterstock / u photostock

However, that doesn't mean skipping meals or eating paltry portions is the key to keeping your muscles strong.

"Muscles consume most of the glucose in the bloodstream, and they prefer a steady supply of fuel to maintain themselves. Skipping meals and low-calorie diets rob muscles of the energy they need," explains Ward.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more about Sarah
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