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Understanding Sarcopenia

The Silent Epidemic and the Role of Nutrition in Prevention and Management
  • Healthy Muscle Vs Muscle Loss in Sarcopenia
Athlete Using Strength Show Muscle Tone

What is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia is a condition characterised by the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, which increases with age. Sarcopenia is specifically related to aging and can occur even in people who remain physically active.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, sarcopenia affects approximately 10% of individuals over the age of 50 worldwide. In Western countries, the prevalence of sarcopenia is estimated to be between 5-13% in those aged 60-70 years, and between 11-50% for those aged 80 years or older[1,2,3]. This suggests that Western countries may have higher rates of sarcopenia, possibly due to lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity levels.

How Does it Differ from Muscle Atrophy?

Muscle atrophy refers to a decrease in muscle mass due to inactivity or malnutrition.  Muscle atrophy can occur at any age and is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, if you transition from weight lifting to marathon running, you may lose some muscle mass. This is because your body is adapting to the new type of physical demand. Marathon running primarily uses slow-twitch muscle fibers for endurance, while weight lifting builds fast-twitch muscle fibers for strength and power. So, losing some muscle mass when transitioning from weight lifting to marathon running is a normal part of your body's adaptation process. 

While some muscle loss can be a normal part of your body's adaptation process when transitioning between different types of sports, it's important to maintain a balanced exercise regimen that includes both cardio and resistance training to ensure overall health and fitness. If muscle loss due to inactivity or malnutrition leads to weakness or difficulty performing daily activities, it may be a sign of unhealthy muscle atrophy.

Grip Strength Test to Diagnose Sarcopenia

Who is Most Likely to Suffer from Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia can affect both men and women, but men tend to lose muscle mass faster than women due to hormonal differences[2]. While sarcopenia is more common in older adults, it can start as early as 30 years old, with muscle mass declining about 3-8% each decade thereafter. 

Interestingly, a systematic review of population-based studies found that the prevalence of sarcopenia in healthy adults over age 60 was higher in non-Asians than in Asians, for both males and females, with a 19% prevalence rate for non-Asian males vs 10% for Asian males. For females, this was 20% for non-Asian vs. 11% Asian [3]. 

While it's not easy to measure muscle loss at home, signs of sarcopenia can include feeling weaker over time, having difficulty lifting items that were once easy to handle, or finding it harder to climb stairs or get up from a chair. If you notice these changes, it's worth discussing them with your healthcare provider.

How is Sarcopenia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing sarcopenia involves assessing muscle strength, muscle quantity, and physical performance. This can include measures of grip strength, gait speed, and muscle mass. A healthcare provider may use tools like dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) to measure muscle mass. However, sarcopenia often goes undiagnosed in younger adults (30-65 years) because it's usually not a focus during routine check-ups.

The relationship between muscle strength over a person's lifetime

Can sarcopenia be prevented or reversed?

Yes, sarcopenia can be both prevented and reversed. If you’re looking to reverse sarcopenia, resistance training is one of the most effective ways to increase muscle mass and strength[6]. This should also be coupled with sufficient protein intake which will help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, the process that allows the body to build and repair muscle tissue - as well as maintain it! 

Check out our Protein Calculator to determine your daily protein needs and refer to our 101 Protein Guide for a comprehensive understanding of the importance of protein in your diet. Ideally you would spread your protein intake across your main meals, with the goal of consuming over 30 grams of protein in each meal. 

To prevent or delay sarcopenia development, invest in your body! The best way to do this is to maximise your muscle mass in your youth and young adulthood, maintain this muscle mass during middle age, and seek to minimise muscle loss in your later years. This involves prioritising your fitness and adopting healthy eating habits. 

What role does exercise play?

Exercise, particularly resistance and strength training exercises, can help prevent and manage sarcopenia. For a younger individual, say a 35-year-old, this could include weight lifting or bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats several times a week, in addition to regular cardio exercise (4-to-5 times per week). 

For an older individual, it could involve lower-impact activities like water aerobics, yoga, or resistance band exercises. For individuals who are extremely weak, it's best to start off slowly with very simple movements, such as a few repetitions of standing up from a sitting position. A physiotherapist can provide a regime of suitable exercises based on your circumstances.

Roam Protein to aid with sarcopenia prevention and reversal

The Role of Nutrition and Roam Protein

A balanced diet rich in protein is crucial for managing sarcopenia. Protein provides the amino acids that our bodies need to build and repair muscle tissue. Roam Protein is an excellent source of plant-based protein, derived from Canadian golden peas. It's vegan-friendly, easy to digest, and free from common allergens, making it a great choice for individuals looking to maintain or increase their muscle mass. Any most importantly, it’s the best tasting vegan protein powder out there!

As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to:

  1. Get enough protein
  2. Spread your protein intake throughout the day and
  3. Aim to consume 30 grams or more of protein in a single meal.

This requires some getting used to. Roam Protein is a great way to boost your protein consumption in and around meals: for example adding Protein to your breakfast oats, yoghurt, or cereal; or blending a smoothie with fruits and nut butter for a nutrient-rich snack or meal.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that you only need to increase your protein intake to improve or prevent sarcopenia. The winning combination is to have an exercise regime that incorporates some form of strength training, paired with a protein rich diet. 

Remember, while Roam Protein can contribute to your daily protein intake, it's also important to consume a variety of protein sources for a balanced diet. Always consult with a healthcare provider or a nutritionist before making significant changes to your diet or exercise routine.

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[1] + Graph Image: https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afy169

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25425503/ 

[3] Shafiee G, Keshtkar A, Soltani A, Ahadi Z, Larijani B, Heshmat R. Prevalence of sarcopenia in the world: a systematic review and meta- analysis of general population studies. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2017;16:21.