favorite session at the 2017 Academy of Nutrition and
Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference was presented by
physiologist and researcher Dr. Luc Van Loon of Maastricht
University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. (And by the way,
the moderator who introduced him was Roberta Anding — the
sports dietitian for the Houston Astros.)
a look at your arm," Van Loon began. "Your muscle
tissues are constantly breaking down and building up. In fact,
every 2 to 3 months, you have a new arm … and other muscles
throughout your body."
can change, he explained. Throughout life, we can either
condition our muscles to grow or decondition them. In other
words, if we’re not synthesizing muscle, we’re losing it.
stimulates our muscles to grow? Food (especially protein) and
physical activity. Protein not only provides the building
material (amino acids) for new muscle; it also signals the
body to get busy and start making muscle.
3 to 4 hours after eating, protein from your meal is now you,
says Van Loon. "You are what you just ate."
protein converts to muscle depends on several factors,
including the source. Whey protein derived from milk, for
example, stimulates a higher rate of muscle growth than
casein, another milk protein. And research shows that protein
from animal sources generally has a bigger muscle building
response than plant proteins. No worries though. Vegetarians
can easily compensate by eating more of a wide variety of
plant proteins including soy, beans, grains and nuts to get
the best mix of muscle building amino acids.
of us, about 20 grams of protein (the amount in 3-ounces of
meat, poultry or fish) at every meal is enough to maximize
muscle synthesis after meals. Older folks and athletes may
is important as well. Studies have found that three
protein-containing meals a day stimulate more muscle building
than just one or two protein meals a day.
was interesting. "Chewing has a huge effect on anabolic
response (the ability of the body to make muscle from
protein)," our speaker reported. Well-chewed food, he
explained, is better digested and available for building
just eat protein and expect to form strong muscles, however.
If you become less active, you are less than what you just
ate, says Van Loon. Exercise and food work together in the
muscle building process.
activity, especially before we eat, increases our muscles’
ability to turn protein from our meal into muscle. "If
you are physically active before you eat, you are more than
what you just ate," he told us.
news for those of us a bit over the hill: Older people can
still build muscle … if we exercise and get adequate amounts