Bodybuilding Articles

Building Muscle Over The Age of 40

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Scientifically speaking, there should be very little difference between building muscle in your early 30s and building muscle in your 40s. Yes, your testosterone levels may have dropped slightly, and you may have lost a bit of muscle over the years, but the difference should be too small to notice.

Testosterone and Lifting

When it comes to building muscle, testosterone is one of the biggest components. It’s required to stimulate protein synthesis, which is how your muscles recover, repair, and rebuild after a workout. The more protein synthesis that occurs, the more you’re able to train, the quicker you’ll recover and the bigger your muscles will grow.

As we age, our testosterone levels will naturally begin to drop. There are many causes of this, and all men will be affected differently. Luckily, there are several ways to maintain your testosterone levels and keep them as high as possible, despite the ageing process.

Exercise itself will help boost testosterone, but also: making an effort to reduce stress, sleeping more, eating a diet that contains lots of healthy fats; and losing body fat. Cutting alcohol will also help.

However, unless your drinking is out of hand, you should still be able to have a few beers with your friends on the weekend and hang onto your muscle mass. Fact: Arnold Schwarzenegger also drank beer in the off-season.

Once you start making changes to your diet and lifestyle your testosterone levels will rise, which will help you to level the playing field against 20 and 30 year olds.

What Program Should I Follow?

Technically, you could follow any program and get results – provided that you’re consistent and that your lifestyle and diet match your goals. People get too hung up on finding the perfect program. However, a good basic program recommend for a man in their 40s (who wants to build muscle) is a full-body program for 3-4 days per week.

Lots of compound movements such as: deadlifts, squats, bench presses, rows, and the overhead press will give you a spike in testosterone. Though if you’re a complete beginner you may want to start off with some easier exercises. I.e. push ups instead of bench press, or/and bodyweight squats until you’ve built up sufficient strength to do the more hardcore compound movements.

Deadlifting is an essential exercise, as it can help protect your lower back in later years (provided that your technique is sound). Hiring a coach to teach you to deadlift properly is probably the best investment you’ll ever make. Though if you can’t afford a coach, learning the kettlebell deadlift first is a good starting point.

Avoid bodybuilder-style workouts, these are designed for men who are often on steroids (or younger men who have genetically high testosterone levels). At 40 years old, you’re unlikely to have the recovery levels to match their high volume workouts. Thus following such routines may mean you’re not able to recover between sessions.

What Diet Should I Follow?

One thing that occurs as we age is a slow decline in our ability to maintain muscle, this is possibly due to humans being less able to use leucine as they age. Leucine is an amino acid, essential for building muscle. Luckily it can be found in most dietary protein.

This is a roundabout way of saying that as you age you should look to increase your protein intake; you may also consider leucine supplementation (though dietary changes would be more beneficial).

Social Issues

One main reason why men in their 40s struggle to build muscle compared to college kids, is a lack of time to exercise and lift weights. When you’re in your 40s, your career is often at its peak, meaning more time spent working and less time for a social life. Add in family, either elderly parents who may need extra help, or a partner, kids (or both) and suddenly the amount of time available for training is reduced.

Use this time wisely. Prioritize it. Don’t feel guilty about including a few weekly gym visits over family time. Your family will thank you when you’re fit, healthy, and mobile in your sixties and seventies.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the founder of Muscle and Brawn, and a powerlifter with 30+ years of experience. Steve's recorded a 600lb squat, 672lb deadlift and a 382lb bench press.
Steve Shaw

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