Unlocking the power of muscle mass for cyclists
Gaining muscle isn’t just for weight lifters, bodybuilders, and Cross-fit athletes. Muscle mass is a critical component of overall health and functionality. As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass, strength, and function, in a process known as sarcopenia.
On average, we lose 3–8% of our muscle mass per decade after the age of 30 and that decline accelerates after 60. So, understanding and addressing the factors influencing muscle mass is essential not only for athletic performance but also long-term health.
The significance of muscle mass
Losing muscle mass isn’t just about how you look. Sarcopenia is a fundamental contributor to disability in the elderly. Losing muscle mass and strength has been shown to increase the risk of falls and injury, and, ultimately, creates functional dependence and disability.
But that’s not all. Declining muscle mass often leads to an increase in fat mass and a higher incidence of insulin resistance and diabetes in the elderly. With all that in mind, you’d be well served preserving muscle mass throughout your life if you want to maintain good overall health and well-being as you get older.
This leads to the obvious question: How can I build or maintain muscle mass effectively?
While nutrition and supplements may have a role to play, the absolute unavoidable priority should be to incorporate resistance training into your fitness routine. That doesn’t mean you need to become an Olympic weightlifter or have the physique of a Marvel superhero, although weightlifting is one extremely effective way to build muscle mass. But kettlebells, resistance bands and even bodyweight exercises will also get the job done. Essentially, any activity in which you need to use your muscular strength to overcome some form of resistance.
Can cyclists gain or maintain muscle mass?
Watch a professional bike race and you’ll be blown away by the endurance and explosiveness of the athletes on show. What’s less impressive is their physique, with most pros having flat chests and matchstick-like arms. So can cyclists really build muscle mass or is it a losing battle?
While it’s true that too much cardio can potentially hinder muscle growth, finding a balance between endurance training, like cycling or running, and resistance training is the golden ticket when it comes to building both cardiovascular health and enjoying the advantages of building or maintaining functional strength.
You should make sure you tailor your training schedule to your specific goals and make adjustments based on your body’s response. With the right frequency and intensity of resistance sessions alongside your cycling or triathlon training, there’s no need to compromise either your sporting goals or your long-term health.
However, there are a few other things to bear in mind. First, adequate recovery time is crucial to allow your muscles to repair and grow. Striking the right balance is key to avoiding overtraining and promoting sustainable muscle development. You should also embrace protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, red meat, yogurt, and beans. These foods provide the essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth.
Studies also show that incorporating omega-3 fatty acids from sources like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds can combat inflammation, supporting muscle protein synthesis. Vitamin D is another critical factor, as it aids in muscle protein synthesis. While sunlight is a natural source, a supplement may be necessary, especially for the over-60s. Your best bet would be to speak to your doctor or a dietician about which supplements would be most beneficial to add to your routine.
The key takeaway
Understanding the importance of preserving and building muscle mass is not just for athletes but for everyone aiming to lead a healthy, functional and long life. By incorporating effective training strategies, balancing cardiovascular exercise, and prioritising nutrition, we can all unlock the power of muscle mass.
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