For decades, we’ve been thinking about weight management as caloric restriction. And while that is an effective way to lose weight, appropriate for short-term interventions aimed at reducing body fat, the truth is our bodies need a lot of food, and even more as we age. Often, as metabolism slows throughout middle and older ages, the response is to eat less to compensate. While this may keep the “scale” in check, it may be putting your life at risk.
Age related diseases associated with being inadequately nourished include:
- Cognitive decline & dementia
- Diabetes and insulin resistance
- Injuries and falls
- Cardiovascular disease
Why we need to eat more
Consider this comparison, if you’re building a house, you’re going to need lumber, roofing, sheetrock, and a host of other materials to erect your structure. This is akin to your body’s protein and, to a smaller extent, fat requirement.
Now you’re going to need nails, screws, and a bunch of tools to put the pieces together. These are your micronutrients.
Vitamins and minerals are the catalysts for every biochemical process in your body. The reserve of each micronutrient is what determines how strong and efficient your house is. If you only have a small supply of micronutrients (think one measly box of screws), you’re going to have to start making compromises about how sturdy your house is going to be.
Your last choice is whether you’re using and hammer and handsaw or power tools?
If you chose power tools, you need energy to make them work. This is carbohydrates and fat. Let’s be honest, if you don’t have a power source, you’re using hand tools and that’s going to make for a long process and potentially a weaker structure.
Food is the foundation of your structure and the power behind how well it works. If you skimp on food, your structure is going to break down.
How to eat more & stay fit
So how do we eat more but stay metabolically healthy?
The short answer: muscle
While aerobic activity has its own health benefits and should be part of a comprehensive fitness approach, building muscle is essential for improving metabolism. Muscle metabolizes more calories (energy) than any other tissue in the body, quickly pulling glucose from the blood to generate energy. So, the more muscle, the more food you can eat and the more food you can eat, the more building materials and power tools you have at your disposal. Better yet, muscle stabilizes your structure, preventing against falls and injuries that lead to sharp health decline as we age. Instead of reducing function and form, your body will be resourced for optimal function.
The NIH reports that we hit our peak strength and muscle mass between 30-35 start to drop off slowly from there, with a sharp decline at 65-70. But this is largely affected by how you use your body. This means that we must be incorporating thoughtful resistance training into our routine. Evidence continues to mount that age-related health risks are largely mitigated and even reversed by increasing strength and muscle mass.
While It’s tempting to take short-cuts and adopt nutrition fads aimed at “hacking the system”, the truth is that what works in our first half of life, is not safe or effective in the second half. As I like to say, the first 40 is not the second 40. To maintain optimal health and body composition in the second 40, you need plenty of food and plenty of muscle.