In grad school I gained over 30 pounds, which on my small boned 5’5” frame is substantial. I was 38 years old when I started back to college and a single mom. It took 2 years to finish my BA, having completed my first two years when I was 18. It took me another 1 ½ years for my MA. So far so good. I managed to keep running, even fitting in two marathons.
I was now 41-years-old and off to the University of Washington for my PhD. Not only did my metabolism come to a screeching halt like it does for many of us at age 40, but I was running out of money and needed to finish my doctorate in less than 4 years. At the University of Washington that breakneck speed is not encouraged nor supported. I was on a fast track with the goal to graduate before my son finished high school and I ran out of money. Between the research and taking an unbelievable number of classes each quarter, I made it. But there was a price to pay.
That price was 30 pounds of fat. I did nothing but research, read, study and write. And this was before the internet, so I spent hours in the library. You guessed it—no exercise, no running, no gym time and no time to cook healthy meals. Sadly, Starbucks was taking off in Seattle and a daily latte and muffin were what I used to jumpstart my day. As proud as I am of my doctorate, I don’t enjoy looking at my photographs—my face was round and I had cankles. The only redeeming feature of those pictures was the shapeless purple velvet gown and silly cap we wore that covered up the round belly and non-existent waist.
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll run a marathon and lose the weight and get back to pre-grad school shape.” Dream on!
Graduation was in May and the Seattle marathon was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Six months—ideal time to train. It took about a month to re-acquaint myself with the discipline running required, but then the endorphins kicked in. Thanksgiving arrived, and when I took my place at the starting line I weighed only ten pounds less than on graduation day. When I looked around at the other runners, I knew that to look and feel like I wanted, cardio exercise was not enough.
Working out at a gym has never been my favorite fitness activity, but I knew it was necessary. I had to stop the naturally occurring loss of muscle mass that starts around age 35 known as sarcopenia. and build sufficient muscle mass to help me look like I wanted to look. Every 10 years after age 35 we lose an average of 5 percent of our muscle mass unless we do something about it.
When not training for a running event, I ran between 30-45 minutes per day. I decided to add 20-30 minutes of strength training to my workout and within weeks noticed a change in my body.
In addition to strength training, I increased my intake protein which is what our bodies need to build muscle. Most of us over 35 do not eat a sufficient amount of protein to continue to build enough muscle to compensate for sarcopenia.
An easy way to determine how much protein you need is eat your weight in grams. My weight stays around 125 which means I need approximately 125 grams of protein per day—not easy.
Three ounces of chicken breast contains 25 grams of protein. I try to keep my caloric intake at less than 1500. One ounce of protein equals 4 calories, so 125 grams of protein accounts for 1/3 of my daily calories. Most protein powers added to a smoothie contain around 30 grams of protein. Now I’m at half my protein requirements.
It helps to keep in mind that all calories are not equal. A gram of protein is actually used by our bodies to build muscle. Whereas whatever carbohydrates (also 4 calories per gram) are not used to provide energy turn to fat, usually around our midsection. Protein burns fat; fat doesn’t burn fat, it just sits there.
Women especially worry about bulking up if they strength train and eat more protein. Don’t! It isn’t going to happen. We don’t have enough testosterone.
If you want to look toned, lose weight and feel strong add strength training and protein to your daily fitness program. Check out other blog posts for protein suggestions and strength exercises and workouts.