I was a fan of the late, great Jack LaLanne. Sure, he sold his PowerJuicer, but he was also the epitome of how the human body responds to training up until his death at age 96. Now, that guy lived! And he was far ahead of his time when it came to exercise and diet. If you want to get fat and die prematurely, follow the advice of the American Heart Association. If you want to live long and prosper, follow Jack’s advice.
Jack showed that one is never too old to train and eat well—and he did it before there was any hardcore science to support his views. What does the science say now? In a nutshell, Jack LaLanne, the first fitness superhero, was right. Here are some studies to prove it.
One group of scientists examined the effects of weight training combined with essential amino acid supplementation on psoas-major-muscle hypertrophy and walking ability in elderly subjects.1 The psoas is one of the main hip flexors—it brings your thigh to your chest. So they took 29 old people and assigned them to three groups: 1) E (exercise), 2) A3 (exercise combined with 3.0 grams of essential amino acid supplementation) and 3) A6 (exercise combined with 6.0 grams of essential amino acid supplementation). The six-month training program resulted in significant psoas hypertrophy in all groups independent of the amino acid supplementation. The extent of hypertrophy in the participants who took amino acids was dose-dependent, although the differences were not significant.
The researchers concluded that the training program caused psoas hypertrophy, whereas the training program combined with essential amino acid supplementation improved walking ability.
In another study researchers looked at the effect of leucine co-ingestion on muscle protein gain following a single bolus dose of dietary protein in 74-year-old men and found that it indeed does further stimulate muscle-protein-synthesis rates after a meal in elderly men.2
So we know that the essential amino acids help you exercise and that leucine specifically can further muscle protein gain. What about carbohydrate? Do you need it as well to promote gains in muscle protein? Apparently not.
According to a study of 75-year-old men, scientists found that eating carbohydrate may quicken, but does not further increase, muscle protein gain in healthy elderly men.3
There are a few take-home messages here: 1) Supplements do work, and they work in the elderly. 2) Protein should be the sine qua non of anyone who wants to maximize the benefits of exercise. 2) You gotta lift weights. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’ll help.
—Jose Antonio, Ph.D.
Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University in sunny South Florida.
1 Kawada, S., et al. (2013). Resistance exercise combined with essential amino acid supplementation improved walking ability in elderly people. Acta physiologica Hungarica. 1-11, doi:10.1556/APhysiol.100.2013.008.
2 Wall, B. T., et al. (2013). Leucine co-ingestion improves postprandial muscle protein accretion in elderly men. Clin Nutr. 32:412-419; e-pub ahead of print, September 2012.
3 Hamer, H. M., et al. (2013). Carbohydrate co-ingestion with protein does not further augment postprandial muscle protein accretion in older men. Nutr & Metabol. 10:15; e-pub ahead of print, January.