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Here’s How You Need to Adapt Your Training, Nutrition and Recovery to Build Muscle at 50+

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Who says that building muscle is a young man’s game? Anyone can build muscle with the right routine, diet, and habits. However, building muscle after 50 can be different. Let’s look at what that might mean for you.

Are Your Muscles Different After You Turn 50?

Age 50 seems to be the magic number when it comes to muscle decline. Around this age is when the body starts to naturally lose muscle mass at a faster rate.

build muscle at 50
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There’s a lot of scientific reasoning behind this phenomenon. The basic version is that your muscles follow chemical pathways that trigger chemical and mechanical changes when you start to work out. Muscle movement triggers the production of proteins that mesh with your muscle fibers to increase growth.

For some reason, around the age of 50 is when these chemical pathways are less attuned to muscle growth. The chain reaction of events is weaker and doesn’t yield the same results for someone who is in their 20s when the chemical pathways are at their strongest.

Gene expressions change, so those in their 50s simply can’t experience the same gains as those in their 20s. 

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However, there is something you can do about it. Lifting weights and doing bodyweight exercises can significantly slow the decline that the body naturally faces.

Will It Be Harder to Build Muscle for Those 50+?

Unfortunately, it is harder to build muscle after age 50. Your muscle growth trajectory peaks in your 20s and 30s, and it starts to decline noticeably after 50.

While you’re working on strength training, your aging body is losing muscle mass. So you can experience gains in the gym, but you’re also competing against the natural loss of time.

Still, many many people enjoy muscle gains well after age 50. Even those in their 70s and 80s can gain muscle with the right routine and diet.

A man at the gym building muscle after 50 with leg press
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Is It Safe to Strength Train After 50?

It’s always wise to discuss your workout routines with a healthcare provider. There may be certain health conditions that would make a rigid strength training program unsafe for you to perform. But without health restrictions, most people over the age of 50 can safely navigate a strength training program without any problems.

Is It Too Late to Start Strength Training After 50?

No, it’s never too late to start training! You might be seeing some effects of age, but you can experience gains regardless. Just don’t expect the same kinds of gains that you would have experienced if you’d started at 20.

How to Build Muscle After 50: 9 Strategies for Beginners

Even though your body composition is starting to change at this point, the way you build muscle is the same. It’s all about setting a regimented strength training routine, eating enough calories, and giving yourself enough rest to allow the muscles to grow.

To aid your gains in muscle mass despite the effects of age, let’s take a look at a few tips to help you gain.

1. Consider Starting with Resistance Exercises

If you’re a beginner, it’s okay to start slow. Bodyweight exercises are some of the best for beginners.

Before you pull out the weights, it’s not a bad idea to start your exercises with weekly resistance training. Building lean tissue mass is the groundwork for deep muscle to develop. Resistance bands can intensify the effects of resistance training in typical bodyweight exercises and work targeted muscles.

Resistance bands are also great. It’s easy and inexpensive to grab a new band with a heavier resistance to increase the intensity of the exercise. You’ll have no problem seeing the effects of resistance training with this strategy.

Resistance bands are also good for strengthening joints. Joint health is one of the top concerns for those over 50 when working out, so keep this in mind.

It’s okay to make adaptations to resistance training as needed. Your weekly resistance training volume should depend on your needs. You should see the positive effects of resistance training to justify its continuance.

A man building muscle after 50 with a dumbbell
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2. Focus on Strength Training

Obviously, strength training is vital for building muscle, but there’s a little more to it. Let’s look at some of the effects of strength training and some tips that will serve you best when over 50.

What Exercises Are Best to Build Muscle Over 50?

The exercises you use when strength training at 50 will likely be the same as those you would do at 20. The biggest difference would be in the weights you use.

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Based on our testing, this is the best creatine for most people. It has the perfect dosage of creatine monohydrate per serving, which has been proven to increase muscle mass.

Pros:
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  • Tested for purity and safety
  • Creatine has no known side effects
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Choosing the right weight means choosing a weight that pushes you but doesn’t cause injury. You should choose enough weight so that you can complete your reps, but you won’t be able to do another rep after.

Set up a split workout routine in which you focus on different areas of your body each day. You might focus on legs on Monday, arms and abs on Wednesday, and a full-body routine on Friday. This gives you adequate rest days in between while targeting all your body parts.

How Many Reps and Sets Should You Do?

Since your goal is muscle growth, it’s better to focus on heavier weights per rep rather than more reps. Most strength training programs have you do 3-5 sets per muscle group of 5-12 reps each. Usually, the goal is to max out each set. You should feel that it’s nearly impossible to do another rep when you’ve completed your last one. You can also add more sets per muscle group if needed.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

For faster gains, the recommended rest period is 30-90 seconds between sets. Research from a 2015 study showed that participants who rested for 2 minutes had less power output when lifting compared to those who rested for only one minute.

Listen to your body when it comes time to rest, but know that optimal gains come with short rests.

How Often Should You Train?

Generally, you’ll do strength training 3 days on and 4 days off. You’ll want to split training sessions to cover different body parts on each day. The amount of time you spend in the gym during these sessions is less important than the muscle groups you’re targeting, the weights you lift, and whether or not you max out.

A man training to build muscle after 50 using a ball
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3. Eat to Bulk Up

Remember that gaining muscle after 50 is about more than just hitting the gym a few times per week. It’s also about what you eat. You’ll want to increase your intake of lean proteins and ensure you’re getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients from whole foods. Avoid junk foods, extra fatty foods, and empty calories.

How Much Protein Should You Eat Each Day?

Because muscle fiber relies on amino acids like protein to grow, you’ll want a surplus to get the gains you seek. In fact, according to a 2015 study, increasing your protein intake is essential for muscle growth for those over 50.

The general recommendation is to eat between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight). You can use a simple protein intake calculator to determine how many grams of protein you should be eating.

Should You Eat Protein Before Going to Bed?

Some would argue there are health benefits to eating protein before retiring for the night. And they might be right. Much of your muscle growth and repair occurs during sleep when muscle protein synthesis occurs.

Research indicates you can absorb protein up to 22% more efficiently while you sleep. Therefore, eating a few grams of protein before bed could be a significant benefit to your gains.

An example of recommended proteins for people building muscle after 50
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What Healthy Fats Should You Eat for Muscle Growth?

Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet, but you want to eat the right kind. Go for good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which promote good cholesterol or HDL. Getting enough grams of fat is essential for muscle growth because HDL promotes growth hormone levels.

If you’re building muscle, about 20-30 percent of your calorie intake should be healthy fats, which is about twice as much as an average person needs. So a person eating 2,500 calories per day would need around 83 grams of fat per day.

Sources of good fats include:

  • Whole eggs
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts
  • Cheese
  • Avocadoes
  • Chia seeds 
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Are Carbohydrates Good for Bulking Up?

You need plenty of carbs alongside protein to build muscle. Without adequate carbohydrate intake, your body will turn to your muscles for energy. It will break down muscle tissue as an energy source instead.

Choose complex carbs from whole food sources over empty carbs from junk food and processed sugar. Eating good carbohydrates before training improves your performance and keeps your energy up.

Will Counting Calories Help Build Muscle After 50?

Building muscle after 50 is challenging as you start to experience age-related muscle loss. Men also experience a yearly decrease in testosterone levels around this time, making it even harder to maintain muscular strength.

Counting calories isn’t necessarily the key to building muscle, but you should maintain a proper diet. You need copious amounts of protein, using dietary supplements if necessary. Focus on healthy fats, and complex carbs, and make sure you’re getting enough food to balance your intense exercise program.

How Often Should You Eat for Muscular Strength?

Muscular strength comes from both your gym sessions and a balanced diet. You need both factors for muscle growth. Give your body plenty of calories by eating regularly throughout the day.

As a general rule, try to eat every 2-3 hours. Your daily protein intake goals will be difficult to meet if you don’t eat enough. And your energy stores will suffer as well.

A woman drinking a drink with supplements while building muscles after 50
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4. Supplement for Growth

It can be challenging to get your daily protein intake, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients when eating regular food. Even with a varied diet, you might miss your daily intake of certain nutrients.

That’s where supplements come in. While a healthy balanced diet is best, consider adding these supplements when necessary.

Protein

Daily protein intake is often difficult to achieve from regular foods alone. Especially if you’re involved in a heavy training regime, your daily intake might suffer.

Protein supplements can be a good way to hit your protein target daily. Research protein supplements to find a high-quality option that won’t blow up your daily fat intake or add unnecessary sugars.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another essential vitamin for muscle growth. Your body doesn’t synthesize vitamin D on its own and sometimes, you need a daily vitamin D supplement to do the job.

There’s an association between vitamin D and the growth hormone. Therefore, getting enough vitamin D is essential for your health purposes.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

When measuring your daily fat intake, make sure you add in some omega-3 fatty acids. This nutrient is even more important for older adults as research shows that fish oil and fatty acids help to boost and maintain muscle mass in older adults.

A daily intake of fatty acids can help younger adults to build muscle too, but research shows that older adults see significantly more benefits from it.

Creatine

You also need a certain amount of creatine per day. Creatine supplementation is a good way to boost your amino acids. At the start of your heavy training, you’ll want to take 20 grams of creatine per day. After that, you’ll drop it down to about 5 grams per day to maintain muscle.

Multivitamins

Along with getting plenty of vitamin D, you’ll also want a good quality multivitamin. It should contain B vitamins and other high-quality nutrients to help your energy stores as you work out.

Look for a multivitamin specially formulated for physically active individuals. Optimum Nutrition makes a great multivitamin for both men and women to help support muscle growth and boost your energy and performance.

5. Spend Time Outside

A man outside stretching while building muscle after 50
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One of the best ways to get enough vitamin D is to spend time outside. As the sun touches your skin, it causes a chain reaction of events in your body to help it better synthesize vitamin D.

Because there’s an association between vitamin D and the growth hormone, it would appear to be a valuable part of muscle growth.

There’s also a strong association between vitamin D intake and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Those who lack sufficient vitamin D may experience mood disorders that impact their ability to perform workouts.

Therefore, getting adequate vitamin D can help promote gains in muscle mass and promote healthy workouts throughout the week.

6. Get to a Healthy Body Weight

If you’re overweight, it can impact your ability to gain muscle mass. You’ll still gain muscle if you’re overweight. But your body will spend a good amount of time burning fat, taking away from your muscle growth.

Getting your body weight stable allows your muscles to be the sole focus of the body’s metabolic system. It puts more energy towards muscle growth, improving the rate of muscle gains.

7. Drink Enough Water

Water is a vital aspect of anyone’s muscle growth, but it’s especially important after age 50. At this stage of life, the body loses water at a faster rate than those who are younger.

Aim for at least half your body weight in ounces of water. Therefore, if you weigh 200 lbs, you’ll aim for 100 oz of water per day.

Hydration promotes every system in your body, including growth. It also helps to keep your body limber and to help prevent injury.

A man building muscle after 50 drinking water on his bike
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8. Get Enough Sleep

Give your body plenty of sleep. It’s the key to quick gain. While you sleep, the amino acids in your body link together, repairing muscles and promoting growth. Your body will also work on muscle repair while you’re awake, but it takes much longer to complete the same tasks when you’re awake because your body’s systems are devoted to other aspects of everyday living.

So getting at 7-9 hours of sleep each night is the goal for promoting muscle growth. If need be, throw in a nap here or there or shoot for 10 hours of sleep to see if that will help your gains.

9. Don’t Expect Your Body to Act Like You’re 20

Finally, give yourself a little grace when it comes to muscle growth. Remember that you’re not 20, and you shouldn’t expect your body to act that way. Pushing it as hard as you would have 30 years ago will only lead to overworked muscles and injury.

Focus on what you can control like a healthy body, carbohydrate intake, daily protein intake, sleep, water intake, daily fat intake, vitamins, and more. As you focus on your health and gains, the rest will follow.

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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