If you listen to my podcast, you know that protein and strength training are super hot topics of discussion.
But I have to give it up to Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, who was the very first to introduce me to just how crucial our muscle health is for longevity and optimal health.
After our interview last year, Dr. Lyon gave me the nudge I needed to start taking my muscle health more seriously. Now, over a year into resistance training and hitting my protein goals, my body feels stronger than ever. I went from “skinny fat” to 14 percent body fat, and I added 8.9 lbs of lean muscle mass to my frame.
Today, I’m sharing five major lessons I’ve learned from Dr. Lyon, which she covers in much more detail in her new book, Forever Strong—which, by the way, just hit #3 on the New York Times bestseller list!
Let’s jump in with my first takeaway:
1. Muscle Is the Organ of Longevity.
The unfortunate truth is our bodies become less efficient at digesting, absorbing, and utilizing protein as we age, which is a big problem since our bodies use protein as a building block for our muscles, bones, ligaments, and tissues.
In addition to that, it’s also common for adults to become more sedentary with age—and what you don’t use, you lose. Not working our muscles results in muscle loss, weak and brittle bones, and an increased risk of falls and fractures. In fact, one study showed that in the year following a hip fracture in adults 50 and older, the risk of death increases by up to 25 percent.
How does one prevent this? By regularly working to build and maintain our muscle mass. Why? Having lean muscle acts as a cushion for our bones. It helps to strengthen them for less risk of a fall or fracture. That’s one major reason why those with lean muscle live longer.
Another is that it also helps with glycemic control (more on this below), putting us at a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, all of which inevitably lower life expectancy as well.
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2. Eat Enough High-Quality Protein.
It’s super critical to prioritize protein at every meal. And this is especially true as we get older for several reasons. For one, as I mentioned above, our bodies have a harder time breaking down protein as we age. This is why Dr. Lyon and her mentor, Dr. Donald Layman, suggest one gram of protein per pound of ideal body weight as a daily goal.
When we talk about quantity of protein, it’s also important to talk about quality. You want to make sure you’re eating enough high-quality protein, which contains all of the essential amino acids—especially leucine, a critical player in halting muscle breakdown and stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
Dr. Lyon recommends at least 30 grams of high-quality protein at every meal, but especially your first meal, in order to protect lean muscle mass. She suggests consuming predominately animal protein to meet this goal because it contains all of the essential amino acids and is more readily absorbed than plant protein.
Note: Getting all of the essential amino acids from a plant-based diet is possible, but it requires more planning and effort. Past podcast guest Simon Hill has a solid recipe guide for those who chose to be vegan or vegetarian.
Other perks of a high-protein breakfast are that it promotes satiety, balances blood sugar, helps satisfy hunger for longer, and curbs cravings for the rest of the day. If you need help planning a high-protein breakfast, Try This: 3 High-Protein Breakfast Recipes.
3. Engage in Resistance Training Sessions at Least Three Times per Week.
I can honestly say that strength training with a personal trainer three days a week, combined with hitting my protein goals most days, made an incredible difference in shifting my body composition to lose fat and gain lean muscle.
This was super exciting to me as someone who has always been on the skinnier side, and it didn’t require taking any drastic measures. Dr. Lyon recommends 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity exercise, strength training 3–5 times per week, and one HIIT session weekly.
Forever Strong is an incredible resource offering specific strength training protocols, recovery times, tracking tools, and a personalized training schedule. If you want to start lifting weights on your own, her book has everything you need to begin, including 80+ video exercises that you get access to when you order the book via her website.
4. More Muscle Mass = More Freedom to Incorporate Carbs into Your Diet.
Carbs are not the enemy. High-quality carbohydrates from whole plant foods definitely have their place in a healthy and balanced diet. Beyond gut-friendly fiber, polyphenols, and nutrients, carbs offer quick energy that can help fuel our muscles, power movement, and workouts.
When not used for energy right away, our muscles act as a storage site for sugar. It’s actually a fascinating system: instead of converting excess carbs into fat, sugar molecules are converted into glycogen. This storage form of carbohydrate can be used during intense workouts or when you go for long periods without food, like overnight fasting.
Dr. Lyon calls muscle our blood sugar-stabilizing organ for this reason. Lean muscle supports better glycemic control, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic flexibility (our ability to switch between burning carbs to fat for energy). Without muscle, excess carbs are stored as fat in the liver and around the waistline.
This is a core theme in Dr. Lyon’s book: that the obesity and metabolic health crisis we are currently facing is not because we are over-fat but because we are under-muscled.
5. What’s Your Why?
This was an unexpected gem featured in Dr. Lyon’s message. It really hit home for me personally, which is why I wanted to mention it as one of the key takeaways from her book. Because if you don’t have a why, then what’s going to motivate you to get started on the path of taking your muscle health seriously? Or, better yet, keep going?
Around the time I turned 40, Dr. Lyon played a huge part in helping me see that I needed to start prioritizing my muscle health now if I wanted to continue to lead a healthy and strong life and do what I love well into the later years of my life. That was my why.
If you’re stuck on yours, it’s helpful to visualize your future self and what sort of life you want to live. Do you see yourself running around and playing with your grandchildren? Traveling the world? Hiking? Gardening?
Whatever your why may be, it’s safe to say that maintaining our independence and being able to live as long and as healthfully as possible is at the heart of longevity for all of us—and it’s never too late to get started. Dr. Lyon’s book is an excellent road map that provides everything you need to invest in building up your muscles to lead a long, strong, healthy, and fulfilling life.
Here’s to living forever strong,