Skeletal muscle is the largest tissue in the body. It is also the most adaptable to its environment and can undergo dramatic changes in mass and strength. In response to resistance exercise and/or anabolic steroids, muscles undergo hypertrophy (increase in mass, cross-sectional area and strength).  The opposite reaction where muscles weaken, known as atrophy, can be caused by factors such as starvation, physical inactivityor health problems like diabetes, renal failure, cardiac or pulmonary problems and cancer, often associated with ageing. But what is worse, muscle weakness itself increases the risks for all causes of death.

Many older people suffer from sarcopenia, which is a muscle wasting process that begins after the age of 50. On average 1 % of the muscle mass is lost every year. This muscle degeneration results in frailty, which is the main cause of older people ending up in nursing homes. The initial muscle mass, before degeneration begins, is a key factor that determines the rate of the degeneration and life quality as we grow older.

Therefore, it is in everybody´s interest to stimulate muscle gain at young age and keep doing so for as long as we live.

To understand how muscles grow, we need to look at some biological aspects. All tissues in our body are made of cells, and the main type of cells that form muscles are the muscle fibers.A normal cell contains one nucleus, which contains the instructions to make proteins, and the actual manufacturing of the proteins occurs in the surrounding cytoplasm. A muscle fiber is unique in the fact that it is a huge cell that harbors a large number of nuclei, all together in one long cell. The combined action of these nuclei gives the muscle cell an enormous capacity to make proteins. When muscles grow, the cell becomes larger, and in order to sustain the increased protein production, the number of nuclei in the cell also increases.

These new nuclei are derived from “satellite” cells, which are a type of stem cells that are located in the vicinity of the muscle fibers. They are normally dormant, but when they are stimulated by steroid hormones or through muscle injury (like after intense exercise), they start dividing and some of the daughter satellite cells fuse with the muscle fibers to donate their nucleus. Scientific experiments show that the first thing that happens is the entering of new nuclei, and after that the synthesis of protein increases. Therefore, muscle growth does not occur immediately after exercise but takes some time.

With muscle atrophy, scientists used to believe that the number of nuclei decreases and that the nuclei are lost. Now new research has found that this is not correct. When the stimulus to grow muscles disappears (decrease in steroids or lack of exercise), the muscle cell becomes smaller because protein synthesis stops and the cytoplasm condenses, but the number of nuclei remains the same. In fact, the retention of “extra” nucleinow explains what is referred to as the “muscle memory”. It gives the muscle the ability to respond more quickly to stimuli for hypertrophy in the future.  This phenomenon is clearly noticeable as an ease to reacquire previously lost muscle mass. Current research has found  that the number of nuclei in the muscle remains stable for at least 15 years, and possibly permanent. So, even if a long time has passed without exercise, less effort is required to recover the muscle than what it took to gain the muscle the first time.

Along the human evolution, this mechanism that gives the muscles the capacity to rapidly change is considered a huge advantage for adaptation. When food is scarce, muscles quickly decrease so that the body can survive on limited resources.

When food becomes available again, the rapid increase in muscle mass brings the body back to previous shape, strong enough to fight or flight and thus increase chances for survival.  Taking this into consideration, it is not difficult to understand that muscle can not grow without adjusting food intake. Not only the quantity, but the quality of the diet is extremely important. As a food source for muscles, nothing beats a high purity protein with high bioavailability that is rapidly digested and completely absorbed.

The persistence of the muscle nuclei teaches us that it is extremely important to stimulate muscle growth whilst we are young. The capacity of the satellite cell to proliferate and regenerate muscles declines with age. Since hormone production also declines with age, the highest gathering of muscle nuclei is achievedbefore the age of 25. People that engage in intense exercise at young age and build up a high “reserve” of nuclei in their muscle fibres are far more likely to age without problems. This is because they can draw from the reserves to keep fit with relatively small effort. But in order to boost the nuclei reserves,a sufficient level of steroid hormones and good quality food that provides all essential nutrients is crucial.

Conclusion

Exercise, take your proteins, vitamins and minerals, regularly check your steroid hormone levels and start doing this as young as possible. This is a golden rule to live a long and healthy life.

 

Dr. Sonia Van Kerckhoven

PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology

Expert in Medical Genetics

 

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References:

Schwartz LM, 2019. Skeletal Muscles Do Not Undergo Apoptosis During Either Atrophy or Programmed Cell Death-Revisiting the Myonuclear Domain Hypothesis. Front. Physiol. 9:1887

Winje et al. ,2019. Cachexia does not induce loss of myonuclei or muscle fibres during xenografted prostate cancer in mice. Acta Physiol. e13204.

Gundersen K, 2016. Muscle memory and a new cellular model for muscle atrophy and hypertrophy. J. Exp. Biol. 219, 235–242

Bruusgaardet al., 2012. No change in myonuclear number duringmuscle unloading and reloading. J. Appl. Physiol. 113, 290–296.

Bruusgaard et al., 2010. Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and are not lost on detraining. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 15111–15116

 

All scientific studies confirm it: lack of exercise and inadequate nutrition cause muscle wasting, which leads to frailty, illness and poor life quality.

The key to prevent “getting old” is to exercise regularly and eat the right amount of “good quality” protein. But what is good quality protein and how much should we eat?

Proteins are the only food source that deliver Nitrogen and essential amino-acids to our body, which are needed for muscle maintenance and many other functions. But, unlike glycogen or fat, proteins cannot be stored as a reserve in our body. This means that the full spectrum including all essential amino-acids must be available when the body needs to maintain or repair a muscle, or any other structure for that matter. If one of the amino-acids is missing, the body has no other choice than to break down muscle elsewhere to obtain the necessary building blocks.

That is why the quality of the protein we eat is so important: it must include all the essential amino-acid. To avoid losing muscle and gradually becoming weaker, also the timing and the amount of protein we eat matters. Muscle wasting becomes a progressively worse problem with age, but science reveals that it can be prevented and even reversed with the right diet and exercise schedule.

Quality of protein

The composition of a protein and the contents of essential amino-acids (it´s biological value) is the main factor that determines it´s quality, but also the digestibility needs to be considered, and even the cooking method can change the quality. The latest most accurate standard that is used to measure the quality of a protein is its Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS), which considers both the biological value and the amount that is absorbed by the body.

Animal sources of protein are better digested than plant-based proteins. Boiling or frying food can increase its digestibility because it disrupts the structure and exposes the amino-acids better to digestive enzymes and absorption. Prolonged extreme heat, however, will lower the nutritional value of the protein. Hydrolyzed protein powders have been processed so that they are already cut up into small pieces. This increases the digestibility and therefore the availability of amino-acids for the body: the higher the degree of hydrolysis, the higher the quality of the protein and its efficiency for muscle synthesis.

In any case, animal proteins such as eggs and milk score better on the quality scale than plant proteins. Whey protein achieves better than casein or soy, due to its higher content of essential amino acids (especially Leucine). Therefore, hydrolyzed whey protein is the absolute top of the protein powders. In a pure formulation it is immediately digested and absorbed, delivering all the amino-acids we need, without causing any “heaviness” on the stomach.

Quantity of protein

Protein recommendations, as set by government institutions, are given as the “lowest level” of protein intake that is needed to prevent disease in healthy adults. According to latest research, this amount is not high enough for individuals that are very active, nor for the ageing population. Older people need to consume far more proteins because they exhibit “anabolic resistance”. The capacity of the muscles to be stimulated for growth diminishes, due to dropping hormone levels and increased inflammation. Therefore, more stimulation is needed to keep the muscles in shape.

In Europe, it is recommended to consume 0,80 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day, but these recommendations make no difference between an 18 year old and a 60 year old adult. To prevent gradual muscle loss, elderly adults must consume between 1,2 and 2 grams of protein per kg body weight per day, as shown by the latest scientific research. This means that an 80 kg ageing man should consume at least 96 grams and maximum 160 grams of protein per day. Because our basic metabolic rate slows down with age, older people need less calories than younger people to avoid obesity. With conventional meals it is very difficult to double on protein intake but reduce calories. Therefore, protein supplements offer the ideal solution to obtain an extra amount of proteins without adding an excess of calories.

Scientific studies have shown that a protein amount of 20 g that is taken as a supplement every day in the form of a protein shake, increases muscle protein synthesis rate by 75 % in young healthy individuals. For older individuals the amount needs to be increased to 40 g a day in order to reach a similar muscle protein synthesis rate.

Distribution of meals throughout the day

It is extremely important to divide protein over several meals a day. Scientists recommend to include in each meal an amount of at least 0,4 gram per kg body weight, and not leave more than 5 hours in between meals. To prevent muscle-wasting, an additional post-exercise and/or pre-sleep protein supplement will supply the rest of what is needed to stimulate the anabolic response. A single dose of 20 to 40 g of protein prior to sleep is properly digested and the amino-acids are found to be correctly absorbed, without affecting sleep quality or next morning appetite. The myth that you should not eat before bed because the food will not digest and it affects your sleep is incorrect, at least when it is pure hydrolyzed protein that is consumed. A protein supplement before sleep does not have negative effects on fat metabolism or energy expenditure.

Other supplements

A diet that is high in protein needs an increased amount of vitamin B1, but actually all of the B vitamins are necessary for energy metabolism. Deficiency of one type of vitamin can cause inability for the muscle to grow. Also, supplements that deal with inflammation, anti-oxidants, other vitamins and omega-3, are needed to prevent muscle breakdown. Therefore, protein formulations that are enriched with the bioactive form of vitamins increase the effect of the protein metabolism for muscle synthesis. After extensive research, VERELST Pharma has designed a superb quality protein formulation that supplies all necessary supplements together with the purest hydrolyzed whey protein you can find. Its effect on muscle synthesis is unrivaled and can be noticed after only 1 to 2 weeks.

Exercise

To preserve muscle mass, physical activity is equally important as good nutrition. Scientific research has determined that it is particularly “strength targeted” exercise with weights that is needed to stimulate muscle synthesis. It has a direct effect on muscle mass and health, but also an indirect effect because it increases the utilization of the dietary protein (especially from whey) and the anabolic response. Endurance activities, on the other hand, like walking or cycling, have little effect.

Conclusion:
Scientific research suggests following recommendations to preserve muscle mass with age:
• Exercise 3 times a week, using both heavy loads and light loads.
• Eat every day at least 1,2 grams and maximum 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
• Throughout the day, distribute meals in equal portions of 0,4 grams of protein per kg of body weight.
• Take an extra supplement of 20 to 40 grams of protein powder after exercise and/or before going to bed.

Dr. Sonia Van Kerckhoven

PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology

MSc Expert in Nutrition

Expert in Medical Genetics

Your genetic background is important and determines your physical capacities and limitations.But how you exercise and what you eat interacts with your genes. The rate of muscle growth can be improved by your lifestyle, but wrong or bad nutrition or inadequate training programs can have the opposite effect and reduce lean mass.

Muscle growth is not only the result of training the muscle fibres. It involves many biological pathways that are necessary to support an increase in muscle mass.

Read more

DNA consists of biochemical building blocks called nucleotides of 4 different types: adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine (abbreviated as A, T, C and G). These nucleotides are lined up in a specific sequence forming long molecules called chromosomes. Every nucleus of a human cell contains 46 chromosomes, 23 which you inherited from your mother and another 23 from your father. With modern technologies such as “Next Generation Sequencing”, the sequence of these nucleotides can be read. It contains the basic information of how your body works.

Within the structure of the DNA we can identify patterns in the sequence, that are called “genes”. Humans have about 21.000 genes, which are distributed among the chromosomes. The sequence of each gene contains instructions how to make a protein, like for instance keratin, collagen, insulin, blood coagulation factors, digestive enzymes, etc.

Although 99,9 % of the genetic sequence is conserved among all humans, small variations make every individual DNA sequence unique. A difference in the sequence of a gene can produce a protein that is functioning better or worse than in other people. That is why we are all different, with different hair, different skin, different body composition, different metabolism, different health concerns, etc.

Since the first human reference genome was published in 2001, the scientific community has been publishing their findings about genetic differences and their consequences for the body. By comparing personal genetic sequences from our clients with this data, we obtained tons of information about small errors that cause inefficient metabolic pathways, and consequently, nutrient deficiencies. By knowing exactly where most genetic variations cause a problem, we were able to identify which forms of vitamins and nutrients are needed to bypass these metabolic bottlenecks.

Our research in genetics has allowed us to design dietary supplements that are optimally suited for people with genetic variations.They contain the active ingredients already in the metabolized form. This means the nutrients don´t need to be transformed in the body and they are immediately and directly available to be used by every body. You could be one of those people that has a genetic variation, of which you are probably unaware, that is causing a certain nutrient deficiency.

This can hold you back in achieving your goals because it is restricting your metabolism. Supplementing your diet with bio-active products will restore your energy and fat-burning pathways to optimal speed, so that you can finally achieve your mental and/or physical goals. If you happen to be among the lucky ones without any genetic inefficiencies, you can still benefit from VGEN products. Because of the bio-active nature of our supplements they are fully absorbed and extremely quick in achieving their activity, rendering far more noticeable results than any other product on the market.

Dr. Sonia Van Kerckhoven

PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology

MSc Expert in Nutrition

Expert in Medical Genetics