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Missing muscle?

Missing muscle?
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If you’re hitting those strength training machines and loading up on protein, but can’t see results, it might be your behaviour outside the gym that’s undermining your efforts and even causing you to store fat. Luckily, we have solutions: Here, experts share a quick guide to muscle loss, to make your search a bit easier.

You need fish

You need fish
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Who cares if you’re that person at work opening the tin of tuna. You have to eat oily fish, like salmon or halibut, or you’ll miss out on heart-healthy and muscle-building omega 3 fatty acids, according to Jennifer Novak, MS, CSCS, a kinesiologist and National Strength and Conditioning Association strength and conditioning specialist.

Novak explains: “Omega 3 fatty acids can help improve insulin sensitivity in the muscle cells and therefore improve the muscles’ ability to utilise the protein you eat. And, by improving insulin sensitivity, the omega-3s can also help the body’s ability to reduce muscle protein breakdown,” she says, citing findings that come from a 2014 study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

Along with omega 3s, omega 6 foods are also important. Here are 6 omega 6-rich foods you should be eating.

You need a place in the sun

You need a place in the sun
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The best source of vitamin D is sun exposure, and if you’re not getting any or taking D supplements, you could start to lose muscle. “Vitamin D has long been promoted for its role in calcium absorption for the support of bone health,” says Novak, “but it also has a role in building muscle mass.” What’s more, your D absorption weakens with age, says Novak, and you need to be extra vigilant about meeting the dietary requirements as you get older.

Try to get some sun on your face and arms for a few minutes as often as possible, and speak to a doctor about having your vitamin D levels tested – you might need a supplement. Checking your levels could help resolve the confusion, as it’s pretty common to be deficient in vitamin D.

Here are 5 vitamin myths you have to stop believing – and 1 vitamin you actually do need.

Skipping meals

Skipping meals
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If you look at the clock at 6pm and realise you haven’t eaten since breakfast, you could be starving your muscles in addition to yourself. According to Samuel Simpson, MSEd, NSCA-CPT, slashing kilojoules could actually backfire, preventing you from reaching your health goals.

“It has become a trend in the training world to practise certain habits like kilojoule slashing, but it’s not smart since your body needs kilojoules to maintain and grow muscle,” he says. Instead, the habit can slow your metabolism and cause you to lose muscle and hold on to fat, he explains. You’re better off eating well-rounded meals to keep your metabolism high and your muscles fuelled.

Be sure to incorporate these five daily habits that combat muscle loss into your routine.

Eliminating carbs

Eliminating carbs
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Cutting back on processed and refined carbs can help with your health and your waistline, but don’t lose the healthy, complex carbs as well. “Carbs are typically cut out of diets, but they’re totally crucial for muscle recovery after a workout. Carbs are broken down and stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, which when we begin to exercise, is then readily available to fuel your body after being converted into glucose,” Simpson explains.

And, without the carbs, we can’t store that glycogen, and muscle breakdown will occur, he explains.

Learn the 16 low-carb diet mistakes you should never make.

Letting pain keep you from pumping

Letting pain keep you from pumping
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If you suffer from chronic pain, exercise and strength conditioning is one of the natural ways to ease your pain. You may want to speak with a specialist to find appropriate low-impact exercises. “Avoiding exercise because of chronic pain can put you at risk losing muscle mass. And, exercise will help you maintain muscle while easing your joint pain,” says Dr Benjamin Domb, an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in sports medicine.

And, if you’re looking to medication to ease any tension, such as ibuprofen, be careful: A recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, explains that over-the-counter pain killers might hinder muscle regeneration and cause weakness.

Discover 8 health problems that can be improved with strength training.

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Drying out

Drying out
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Just like the rest of you, your muscles desperately need hydration. “Muscles contain a lot of water, and dehydration can prevent muscles from properly contracting, thereby reducing muscle tone,” says nutritionist Katie Sampayo.

Think of a grape versus a raisin, she says. “Grapes are hydrated, plump and juicy. Raisins are dehydrated and shrivelled up like old skin. Now imagine this happening to your muscles. Drink more water, and you’ll have plumper, more defined muscles,” she explains.

Aim to drink about nine cups per day, based on current advice from the Institute of Medicine. But listen to your body, because you might need more: If you spend long hours working out or are especially active throughout the day, you’ll need more.

To be on the safe side, make sure you know the signs of dehydration.

Passing up on protein

Passing up on protein
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Grabbing a handful of chips might taste good, but they’re likely lacking in muscle-building protein. Try some nuts or seeds instead – they satisfy that same savoury snack craving and provide fuel for your muscles.

And, it’s a good idea to spread your protein intake throughout the day, says Sampayo, where you’re aiming to get five to six meals/snacks a day, she advises.

Plus, protein is especially important if you’ve just finished a workout. “After exercising, consuming 10 to 20 grams of lean protein within 30 minutes is essential for replenishing your muscles,” she says. “This is what actually makes you stronger after lifting weights. It’s more about the aftercare.”

Of course, protein alone can’t do the job: “Eat plenty of fruits and veggies when eating primary protein sources like meats and dairy. Fruits and vegetables supply potassium and magnesium that protect your muscles from different acids found in these protein sources that can cause long-term muscle damage,” she explains.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, don’t fear, as there are tons of vegan protein sources to choose from.

Skimping on sleep

Skimping on sleep
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Here’s more reason to get some zzz’s: Not only is sleep enjoyable, but it’s also the prime time for muscle regeneration and growth.

“During sleep, growth hormone is produced and protein synthesis occurs,” explains Sampayo. “The main benefits of getting adequate sleep are increasing energy and restoring and repairing muscles, as well as other fibres and cells.” Without enough shut-eye, you might feel weak, sluggish and less energised, which will impact the quality of your workouts and cause you to lose muscle.

Aim for seven to eight hours nightly, she says.

And, if you need help falling asleep, there are certain foods that can make you sleepy and help you get the rest your muscles need.

Too many “Wine Wednesdays”

Too many “Wine Wednesdays”
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It’s hard to say no to that glass of wine sometimes, but if you’re drinking too much, you might be losing some valuable muscle. Alcohol dehydrates your body, and that can strip away muscle, says Sampayo. As you get older, and speeding up at menopause, this correlation between alcohol and muscle loss is even stronger.

Cut back on alcohol: 16 tips to drink a little less.

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