Reader Sandra in Vancouver. asks: “Are nutritional supplements a beneficial addition to gaining, maintaining and retaining muscle for an active 56-year-old woman? I eat well and exercise, but have a tough time keeping muscle.” Globe Health’s fitness expert Kathleen Trotter explains:
First, let me say that having blood work done is the only way to learn with any certainty what vitamins and electrolytes you are deficient in, and therefore what supplements you actually need. If you think you are not gaining muscle or are recovering poorly because you are deficient in a particular nutrient, you may want to ask your doctor to run some key blood tests or consult a naturopath, who can facilitate a set of tests.
But before you invest time and money on blood work and supplements (they can get expensive), I suggest you analyze your diet and exercise routine. I know you say you “eat well and exercise,” but it is possible that your regimes, although beneficial to your overall health, are not geared to increasing muscle mass.
I am curious how you define eating well. In my experience, some people think a healthy diet means simply restricting calories and fat. You might not be eating enough protein, overall calories or healthy fats to gain muscle. You might not need supplements – you might just need to tweak your diet.
My next question: what’s involved in your exercise program? Some women prioritize cardio and core work over strength training, and when they do lift weights, they do endurance-based strength training. This means they use a light weights to do two or three sets of 12 to 15 reps of each exercise. For a hypertrophic response (i.e to increase muscle size) you need to do three to five sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise with a heavy weight.
If you do decide to take supplements, I recommend talking with a knowledgeable health professional, or at a minimum researching the recommended doses of any supplement you are contemplating taking.
Consuming excess vitamins can be toxic. As a general rule, water soluble vitamins are safer because excess will be excreted. That said, every rule has an exception. Excess vitamin C – a water soluble vitamin – can contribute to kidney stones. Excess of fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – will be stored in your liver and body fat, and therefore are potentially more harmful.
You can consume the absolute perfect combination of nutrients – either through food and/or supplementation – but if your body is not digesting or absorbing them you won’t get the full benefits. A quality probiotic can aid in digestion. Consider asking your health professional about whether you could benefit from a probiotic. Or experiment with foods such as kefir and kimchi.
Remember: Be cautious. Research the recommended doses and contraindications of anything you are contemplating taking.