As we age, things start to change. Your energy may start to decline, you may put on a few pounds, not gain or build muscle as quickly, and your metabolism will generally tend to slow down. One of those changes, is called Anabolic Resistance. Largely due to hormonal changes, anabolic resistance is defined by a blunted stimulation of muscle protein synthesis rates (MPS) to common anabolic stimuli in skeletal muscle tissue such as the ingestion of dietary protein and exercise. Your body literally resists creating muscle tissue. So, what can you do to combat anabolic resistance and help defy the aging process to continue building more muscle and the body composition you want. We’re going to talk about what anabolic resistance is, how it works, and some strategies to help you riding the gain train.
What Is Anabolic Resistance
Anabolic resistance is defined as a thwarted stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is initiated by increases in physical activity and by consuming protein and or supplementing with amino acids. Muscle protein synthesis is the biological process responsible for the creation of new protein cells. Without it, you could not build more muscle mass. As you age, muscle protein breakdown will be less responsive to exercise and protein ingestion, underpinning the loss of the amount and quality of skeletal muscle mass leading to decrements in physical performance over time.
How Does Muscle Protein Synthesis Work
As you age, your body becomes less responsive to these anabolic stimuli. Healthy individuals who partake in exercise and eat a sufficient amount of protein will maintain relatively the same amount of skeletal muscle throughout their life. The maintenance of muscle mass is achieved with a net positive protein balance, between muscle protein synthesis rates (MPS) and muscle protein breakdown rates (MPB).
Muscle protein loss can occur, either from increased MPB or less responsive MPS rates, or by a combination of both. The main culprit in anabolic resistance, however, is the desensitization to protein consumption and resistance training or exercise. So how do you delay the onset of anabolic resistance and normalize levels of MPS?
How To Mitigate Anabolic Resistance
The consumption of isolated protein stimulates MPS, increasing your amino acid pool to be utilized in building new protein cells [R].
Studies suggest that resistance training, aka lifting weights, will help initiate muscle protein synthesis. Endurance training, however, will not induce the same response or effect [R]. The speed of amino acid absorption has been shown to initiate muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent with isolated proteins, than other types of protein [R], purporting that protein supplements such as whey protein isolate will help induce greater anabolic changes and help blunt anabolic resistance.
At a molecular level, protein is composed of essential amino acids (EAAs). A large body of evidence has found that EAA supplementation is very beneficial in older adults.
Anabolic resistance can be partly ameliorated with supplemental leucine and EAAs as research indicates that older adults need twice as much leucine compared to younger adults for similar activation of MPS [R].
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted at Baylor University, 30 elderly patients were administered BCAA, Leucine, or placebo. The supplements were consumed in three equal doses pre, immediately before resistance training, and post workout. The results indicated that both leucine and BCAA supplementation led to greater levels of phosphorylated 4E-BP1 and cell signaling of the mTOR pathway, a serine/threonine kinase which stimulates protein synthesis through amino acid activation [R].
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Other studies have shown that EAA supplementation improves physical function, in addition to muscle mass retention, in older adults, that may be less physically active [R]. Muscle atrophy as we age, can lead to deficits in strength, balance, coordination, and lead to suboptimal quality of life. Supplementation with protein and or EAAs can help induce greater changes in muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle protein breakdown, in the event of anabolic resistance.
Anabolic Resistance: Takeaway
As we age, we experience a phenomenon called anabolic resistance. This is when cells become more resistant to flipping on the switch for muscle protein synthesis. Anabolic resistance can be ameliorated with protein and amino acid ingestion as well as resistance training. It’s important to be physically active as we age, to maintain muscle mass, functional strength, and balance. Exercise and nutritional intervention are important to maintain quality of life as well as physical and mental health.
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