If you’re over 40, you might have noticed it’s a lot easier to gain a few pounds than it is to drop them. The foods you enjoyed all your life suddenly stick to your waistline like magnets.
That’s because, starting at 30, you begin to lose about 0.5 percent of your muscle mass, your body’s main calorie-burning tissue, every year.
Gulp! But don’t worry; there’s some good news. Research shows that you can fire up your metabolism — and say goodbye to love handles — with a simple diet and a regular muscle-building exercise.
1. Eat protein.
It’s the building block of lean muscle mass. Because protein packs more calories than carbohydrates, aim for about 20 grams at each meal throughout the day. 20 grams is roughly equal to 3 eggs or 1 cup of lentils.
Don’t forget protein at breakfast. Muscle breaks down while you sleep so it’s important to refuel in the morning. Go for Greek yogurt, eggs, or try adding both hemp seeds and nut butter to a smoothie.
2. Vary your protein sources.
Try beans or lentils; these are good sources of protein that are lower in calories (7-8 grams per ½ cup for black beans, chickpeas, and lentils). Beans are also chock-full of soluble fiber to help lower insulin levels so you store less fat and also feel fuller.
Vegetables also have protein. Asparagus (4 grams of protein per cup); spinach (5 grams of protein per cup cooked); and seed grains like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat pack 5 to 9 grams of protein per cup cooked.
Research shows that eating animal protein could actually speed muscle loss, and meat, wheat, and corn are acid-producing foods that stunt muscle-protein synthesis.
When you eat poultry, pork, beef, and eggs, make sure you also eat more fruits and vegetables, which are alkalizing and can offset the muscle-robbing effects of meaty-starchy meals.
3. Challenge your muscles.
Strength train at least twice a week for 20 to 30 minutes per session. If you need incentive, remember that the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn.
Resistance training causes tiny tears in the muscle tissue. Over the next two to three days post-workout, your body heals the broken-down tissue. This rebuilding process requires an extra energy boost that ups your calorie burn by 5 to 9 percent!
4. Add interval training to your workout.
If you’re a cardio enthusiast, adding bursts of speed into your routine amps up your metabolism even more. No matter whether you walk, run, cycle, or swim, try increasing intensity for one minute, then maintain your typical slower speed for two minutes. Repeat throughout the workout.
Studies have shown that alternating sprints with low-intensity cardio increases aerobic capacity, strengthens endurance, and jump-starts fat- and calorie-blasting.
During the 30 minutes after you exercise, your muscles are especially receptive to amino acids, which help them repair and rebuild. Combining protein with healthy carbs is the perfect Rx.
Try Greek yogurt (18 grams of protein per 6 ounces) mixed with berries and nuts (4 to 6 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons of almonds or walnuts). You can also refuel on a ½ cup of quinoa with berries and hemp seeds (10 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons).
6. Stay hydrated.
When your body is hydrated, you burn more calories. Shoot for eight cups of water every day as a minimum and drink more on days you work out.
Try to drink ice water, which triggers your body to burn more calories as it brings your body temperature back to normal. Also, add green or oolong tea to your diet. Both are low in caffeine and oolong contains polyphenols that help block fat-building enzymes.