Why Might You Want to Build Up Your Strength?
There are many reasons to wish to build up one’s strength. This may be for general fitness. It could be that you have had an illness such as Covid-19 and as a result you are feeling below par. Perhaps you are elderly and aware that maintaining muscle and bone mass reduces the risk of falls and fractures. Perhaps you simply wish to look good?
Are Proteins Key to Building Up Muscle Strength?
Some people take amino acid supplements (the building blocks for proteins) to try to build up their muscles, but this isn’t necessary. A healthy diet should include good quality protein. Sources can include red meat, fish and chicken. Fresh meat is better than processed because it is less likely to cause inflammation. The ideal would be organic, grass-fed. (Kosher organic meat may be hard to obtain and more costly.) (Eating processed meat regularly may increase your risk of bowel cancer.)
For those who are vegetarian, or just cutting down on their meat intake, other great options to increase the protein in your diet include: dairy products, eggs, houmous, nuts and nut butters, lentils and beans including edamame and soya (ideally organic). If you need an extra protein boost, milk powder or whey powder may be helpful but be cautious with supplements as these are often unregulated and may contain contaminants.
Few people of my generation can forget the scene in ‘Rocky’ where Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky Balboa, liquidises a number of eggs and then knocks them back raw! Such dedication is awe-inspiring but over-the-top.
If you are recovering from illness, bone broths may be helpful for recuperation. Broths made by slowly simmering chicken or other meat bones in water together with herbs, some vegetables and onions may provide the protein, collagen, which can help the integrity of your bones and tendons in addition to being a good supply of vitamins and minerals. Keep the bones if you have had a meat meal, bag them up and freeze them for this purpose, together with carrot tops, soft tomatoes and ends of celery (what Judi calls the ‘fershimelty bits’).
The Role of Sugar
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that sugar is my biggest hate. It contributes to most chronic illnesses. Table sugar and other refined carbs like white flour, white bread, plain pasta and white rice all contribute to chronic inflammation. This may negatively impact on strength and resilience. This is not to say that you can’t ever have a sweet treat, but ideally make these few and far between. My favourite way to overcome a sugar craving is to keep washed berries in the fridge. If you want to get very decadent, try dark chocolate dipped strawberries or our Jewelled Dark Chocolate Discs.
How to Reduce Inflammation
To reduce inflammation, start by cutting back on sugar, refined carbs, alcohol and processed foods. If your starting point was a typical Western diet, you should already notice improved wellbeing at this point. Adding in fresh herbs and spices, extra virgin olive oil and oily fish, together with more fruit and vegetables, (especially those from the cabbage family and dark greens) should boost the benefits. Also try to eat for your microbiome, by having fibre and fermented foods. A combination of protein and omega-3 (from oily fish) is particularly helpful for maintaining muscle mass.
For bone strength and integrity
Many people take calcium with vitamin D in tablet form. It is perhaps preferable to get your calcium from your food, e.g. through taking dairy products, sardines, dark green vegetables, beans and lentils and chia seeds. When calcium is taken through your diet, you are unlikely to overdo it. Regularly having too much calcium may be an issue for your heart and blood vessels.
Meantime, vitamin D is mostly supplied through exposure to sunlight. Oily fish, eggs and mushrooms are all good sources. But most of us don’t get enough vitamin D, especially in the Winter. Supplements are cheap and easily available at all pharmacies. Another helpful supplement can be vitamin K2 because similarly most of us don’t get enough fermented foods in our diet. Vitamin K2 helps to ensure adequate calcification of our bones while at the same time reducing the calcium which is laid down in blood vessels. (Avoid this if you are on anticoagulant medication.)
Glutathione is an antioxidant which has an important role in reducing fatigue. Natural sources include vegetables from the cabbage family, onions, eggs, nuts, legumes, fish, chicken, spinach, okra and milk thistle (found in various herbal teas.)
Water is the best thing to hydrate you. Tea and coffee are high in antioxidants but green tea excels. Unfortunately, fresh fruit juices are high in natural sugars and sodas and other juices are often even worse. Chilled water with slices of fruit is a fantastic choice and can look attractive when served at a dinner party. (I am trying hard to remember these.)
So called sports drinks are often high in sugar and other chemicals. They are not usually needed. Coconut water is a good alternative during sports but shouldn’t be drunk quickly or it may cause an upset stomach. Sports rehydration powders are available to add to water, to help replenish salt if you are likely to be sweating heavily e.g. on a long run, but always check for the sugar content and dilute carefully as advised on the packet.
On Exercise and Sleep
Regular exercise is important for strength and resilience as well as your mental health. (“Use it or lose it.”) Even older people may lift weights if they start slowly and take advice from a professional instructor. Gentler exercise, such as yoga, which incorporates stretches and periods of rest and relaxation also have great value. Try also to allow 7-8 hours’ sleep a night if possible.
A protein-rich diet goes hand in hand with regular exercise to help you to gain in fitness, strength and resilience no matter your age. It can also help in your recovery from illness.