Runners are not the most muscle bound of athletes, but we do need our fair share to keep us bounding over hill and dale, and in good overall health. Unfortunately, as we age we tend to lose what meager muscle we may have.
Consider the following:
- After middle age, men typically lose five pounds of muscle per decade;
- Through menopause, women tend to lose 6.5 pounds of muscle mass, and 10 pounds per decade after that.
This loss of muscle mass is not good for running performance or general health since what is lost in lean mass tends to result in a higher percentage of body fat.
Thankfully, there is something that can help to reverse this alarming trend. It is a substance produced in our bodies called, growth hormone (GH).
Good News About GH
- Produced by the pituitary gland in the brain (mostly one hour after deep sleep);
- Increases rate of protein synthesis (muscle building)
- Increases mobilization and use of fat as a source of energy (good for aerobic metabolism and keeping body fat low)
- Conserves carbohydrates as an energy source (reduces “bonking”);
- Enhances the storage of glycogen for energy (reduces “bonking” too).
GH is one of the ultimate athletic hormones. It makes muscles, burns fat and keeps your energy systems primed. It is however, less abundant as we age.
Not-So-Good News About GH
- By age 60 people have 80 percent less GH in their systems than when they were 20 years old;
- GH production declines approximately 24 percent per decade;
- At age 20 we produce approximately 500 micrograms/day of GH; at age 40 it is 200 micrograms/day; and at age 80 it is 25 micrograms/day.
It is no coincidence that the decline in muscle mass as we age correlates with the decline in GH as we age.
All Is Not Lost
Both running and weight training can increase GH production, but weight training shows the greatest effect. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that doing six sets of 10 squats at maximum intensity raised the peak level of GH from 0.1 microgram/liter of blood to 1.0 microgram/liter, a ten-fold increase.
For running, the recommendation is to do 10 minutes of running above lactate threshold for the best GH release. This means a high intensity workout that would most likely involve interval training, stairs or hills.
For weight training, three sets of five-to-eight repetitions of maximal effort seem best. The recommended exercises are: dead lifts, squats and bench presses.
By adding these elements to your overall training program, you can help maintain your muscle mass, stay lean and promote a metabolism that is geared for athletic activities and generalized wellness. All in all, a perfect fit for those of us who like to run and want to keep running for a long time to come.