The tennis players I see locally are far from healthy specimens and only a few elite players, such as Nadal, Tsonga, and lately Murray, have bodies I admire anyway.
Laying off tennis and hitting the gym more has created my problem --- I am getting too muscular. I have put on muscle like mad but really don't want any more. A lot of people would love to have that problem it seems, but not me. I don't want my shirts getting tight (I am already in an XL shirt) and don't like feeling bulges. I am not even using heavy weights because I do not want my knee or hip to bear the load of a really heavy weight. I just want to be strong, lean and quick and not bulky. I want to maintain my lean muscle mass as I age toward my eighties. You see why if you look at my The Fundamental Dynamic of Life post. In a sense, this little post is a continuation of that series, which will have more posts coming soon.
The point of that post is that, no matter what aspects of diet or exercise you care about or practice, everyone will eventually fall into the aging/death cascade at some point of their life. The cascade revolves around the loss of lean mass. Fat mass has little to do with it, which is why the studies of mortality and BMI find that the older you are the more advantages there are to a higher BMI. The problem is in the way the studies are interpreted. High BMI, such as I have, is more about muscle than fat, unless there is gross obesity (a completely different matter). These mortality studies, as I read them, are really saying that high lean tissue mass is the key to low mortality at advanced age. This is why they find this seeming paradox that high BMI confers some measure of protection. They are really saying that high lean tissue confers protection. BMI does not distinguish between these two possibilities.
Why have I put on so much muscle at my age? It should be hard to do, but it has been effortless.
In thinking about how easy this has been, I have reached a few conclusions that might help you maintain or increase your lean mass as you age. It is the most important thing you can do to stave off or at least temper that slide into aging and, eventually, death.
- I am not inflamed. My diet is loaded with fresh plants and lean protein. The plants balance the acid in the meat so I am not acidic, which promotes inflammation. Animal products are loaded with important vitamins. Plants are too, but lack complete protein. There is wide spread protein deficiency among the aged since the rate at which they catabolize lean tissue is rather high relative to the rate at which they synthesize it.
- My insulin is very low. It is at the bottom of the lab range. Everyone says that insulin if anabolic and it is. But, I have finished growing and don't need elevated insulin. Insulin and IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor) at a systemic level are more damaging than beneficial. You want local, muscle activation-derived IGF-1, not systemic. The latter promotes cancer and is more a symptom of elevated insulin than a muscle growth factor. Besides, insulin is even more anabolic with regard to fat than to muscle.
- I eat relatively low fat compared to many "Paleo-types". Fat in large amounts is inflammatory and damages insulin receptors and beta cells. The combination of inflammation with high circulating blood fats is damaging. Killing insulin receptors is not good and will eventually lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
- I lift weights rather than run long distances. I love running, but confine it to sprints interspersed with walks. Lifting weights creates a wholly different metabolic profile than distance running or other long-term aerobic activity. It is better than couch surfing, but still inferior to weight lifting. One of the most important aspects of aging is the loss of the ability to generate force rapidly. Chronic aerobic exercise does not solve this and may even lead to further loss of rapid force development through the loss of FT muscle fibers.
- The bulk of my calories (they don't count) comes from lean meats and a lot of seafood. Both are anti-inflammatory. It is the progression to inflammaging, the term Fraceschini coined, for the cascade into systemic inflammation and metabolic disease. Your immune system will eventually turn against you because it is "there" to keep you alive long enough to let you reproduce and after that your own body's tissues become a target.
- I eat from one to three meals a day, but more often eat just two meals a day. Spacing meals and eating to hunger seem only to be possible when you eat an evolutionary diet, one based on mimicking what our ancestors ate with no processed foods. Processed foods are loaded with inflammatory chemicals and proteins our ancestors were never exposed to in a chronic fashion.
- I exercise according to my hierarchical system. No rest between sets and heavier weight and fewer reps with each stage of the hierarchical sequence. Three sets of, say, 15, 8 and 4 reps with heavier weights and fewer reps as I ascend the hierarchy. This is designed to drop out the slower, weaker muscles to get to the FT fibers, our most expensive fibers. 8, 4, 2 with even heavier weights is another form, but I do not use the very heavy weights I used in my past. I go for a bit of a burn, which tells me I am creating a lactic acid load in the muscle, which is a correlate to GH. I am also releasing BDNF, the growth hormone for the brain, adrenalin, glucagon and altering the same metabolic pathways that mimic leptin.
- I take my own Guardian source of B12 enriched BCAAs. BCAAs promote protein synthesis and leucine is a permissive signal for synthesis. The amino acids provide substrate to keep the energy flow to my brain so I do not get hungry. Eating and releasing insulin during this post-exercise state, as many promote, kills these hormone responses. Insulin shuts down metabolic pathways because nutrient storage dominated most other demands during the period of time that we evolved to become humans. The BCAAs promote protein synthesis in our mitochondria, our energy furnaces. Without them, we could not be humans.
- My REDOX state is good because I take Guardian Advanced Glutathione, the same form of Glutathione I have taken for 30 years. I make sure my cells do not tip into an pro-oxidative or oxidized state. In an oxidative state, the cell DNA is damaged, proteins become oxidized and change shape and no longer function properly within the cell. If the shape of these proteins is altered sufficiently, they can not act as signalling or receptor cells and the immune system attacks them as unrecognized foreign proteins. Oxidative damage to the motor neurons seems to be involved in the loss of the ability of the nervous system to activate muscles, particularly the FT fibers, the most important of our muscle fibers. This is the source of the diminishing ability the aged face to rapidly develop force and of the loss of primarily FT fibers as we age. Oxidation strips myelin from the nerves which dampens signal transmission and may even lead to MS. At some stage, I think we all develop a mild form of MS as the insulation that encases our nerves is stripped away.
- I also think that almost all chronic diseases, at least those that are metabolic or hormonal in origin, that develop in aging are the same as those that have a genetic or epigenetic origin. Aging lays out all the chronic diseases eventually, whatever their genetic component. Aging is an epigenetic process that alters gene expression toward disease right to the end.
- We do not age the way our ancestors did because of our modern diet and our chronic stresses. We are active genotypes, not the sort of human you see nowadays. Excess energy trapped in all our tissues stacks up the electrons in our mitochondria and they begin to produce far too much oxygen, which tips our cells into the adverse REDOX state, where almost all aging processes lead to. We just age faster, even though we die at an advanced age relative to our ancestors. We do live a longer period of our lives in a state of diminished functional capacity.
- In the end, it is functional capacity that determines how we age. And, functional capacity is determined by our muscle mass and the composition of our muscle fibers. I have worked out for so long that my genes "know" how to make muscle. That is really the deep explanation, if there is one.
So, in the end the solution to my problem of too much muscle is not a problem. All I have to do is spend more time doing other things and a bit less time in the gym. A nice problem to have.