Muscle Mass to Power Running Performance - She Runs Eats Performs

Episode 68

Published on:

9th Sep 2021

Muscle Mass to Power Your Running Performance

Muscle Mass to Power Your Running Performance

Today we will talk about:

·      Why is lean muscle mass important for running performance?

·      The challenges of building and maintaining lean muscle mass as we approach mid-life and beyond.

·      Protein to support muscle mass

·      A suggested exercise framework to support midlife health

Show Notes


Outlining why lean muscle mass is important for running performance

 Focus should be on improving performance, also to minimise and prevent injury. A few key areas to consider:

·      Lean muscle mass increases metabolism, you’ll burn more calories at rest and during workouts which will support weight management and body composition.

·      When you have a strong core you will have improved running efficiency, your posture will be good, so you’ll be more efficient in your movement and form which will lead to improved endurance and less fatigue especially on long endurance runs

·      When muscles are well conditioned, they perform better over distance and there will be less likelihood of fatigue, hitting the wall, suffering from cramps

·      Good form and endurance will lead to a faster pace

·      You will be minimising the risk of injury by minimising muscle imbalances or weaknesses

 More strength means more joint stability, stronger bones and ligaments, and increased calorie burn—even during rest—because muscle burns more calories than fat. A runner’s goal is often to improve or maintain a lean body composition by shedding excess body fat and adding lean muscle to improve performance and prevent injury.


The challenges of building and maintaining lean muscle mass as we approach mid- life and beyond 

It’s well known that as we age, we lose muscle mass … and that starts at around the age of 30! Which is young!

 Muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60.

The underlying reasons for muscle loss as we age are:

·      lower levels of anabolic (muscle-building) hormones

·      a decrease in neuromuscular efficiency,

·      a decrease in the quality of communication between the brain, central nervous system, and muscles

·      a reduced ability to synthesise protein



An introduction to sarcopenia

 Mid-life women often talk about noticing loss of muscle tone or getting flabby and we may notice elderly relatives in their late 70’s and 80’s almost “shrinking” as they lose muscle – this is known as sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia is defined as the presence of low muscle mass together with low muscle function i.e. strength and performance.

There’s lots of research in the elderly population around nutrition and exercise interventions and from my experience in supporting elderly clients, it’s a challenging time of life to make changes and gain significant results. Managing the risk factors for sarcopenia earlier in life is key.

So, whilst muscle loss is a natural ageing process to be expected, it’s important for everyone, and especially as runners that we take steps to preserve our muscle mass and aim to slow down this loss of muscle mass.

KEY RISK FACTORS for sarcopenia

·      Obesity and higher BMI

·      Diabetes

·      Smoking

·      Sedentary lifestyle and low physical activity

·      Poor Nutrition Status and sub optimal diet

 So having an optimal body composition, being active, taking regular exercise and having a nutrient dense food plan in early and mid-life will all be supportive in slowing down progression towards age related sarcopenia.


 Are there any FEMALE FACTORS to consider?

There doesn’t appear to be any clear evidence that one gender loses muscle mass more rapidly.

However, hormonal changes during peri and menopausal years appear to be related to changes in muscle mass. A natural decline in oestrogen levels, leads to a progressive decrease of muscle mass and strength and bone density – which may be the reason that women report the loss of muscle tone/flabbiness.

The natural decline in oestrogen, the Estradiol form of oestrogen is implicated in changes in muscle regeneration.

Skeletal muscle has estradiol receptors at the fiber level.

Estradiol can promote muscle regeneration by stimulating activity of muscle satellite cells and contributing to muscle health.

Decreased muscle satellite cells, alongside increased inflammatory markers and altered sex hormones contribute to changes in muscle growth.

Evidence suggests that menopause is closely associated with an increased release of pro-inflammatory cytokines (such as interleukin (IL)-6, IL-1, and tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a) ) which can promote fat mass and compromise muscle function leading to sarcopenia.


The association between sarcopenia and osteoporosis

Several studies have highlighted an association between sarcopenia and osteoporosis (OP), another age-related disease involving low bone mineral density (BMD), bone tissue frailty and risk of fractures.

There is a prevalence of OP in post-menopausal women associated with changes in hormonal balance.

There are many interactions between muscle and bone health which promote good health or conversely may promote sarcopenia and OP.

Musculoskeletal health involves bones, muscles and tissues which all respond positively and negatively to closely linked biomechanical and biochemical interactions.

From a biomechanical viewpoint, bone formation will be promoted by strain i.e. physical activity which will also promote muscle mass – whilst inactivity will have the opposite effect.

Biochemical communication takes place in muscle-bone crosstalk since both muscle and bone act as endocrine organs secreting respectively “myokines” and “osteokines” which influence muscle growth and activity of bone forming cells.

Also, skeletal muscle releases hundreds of proteins and peptides which influence bone health.

So, there is a close connection between muscle and bone and maintaining healthy skeletal muscles (i.e., through adequate exercise and nutrition) can help in counteracting osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.


Dietary protein to support muscle mass and to improve body composition.

 To improve body composition the key is to lose excess body fat and add lean muscle.

To achieve this, it is important to follow a double-pronged approach:

·      To eat to get lean

·      Include specific exercise workouts (which we’ll talk about later)

 There are 3 areas we suggest you focus on nutritionally:

·      Eat for Energy Balance – eat enough to fuel your training and adjust it down for light exercise and rest days

·      Use Carbohydrates strategically for training and body composition

·      Ensure your protein intake is optimal


 What do we need to take into consideration regarding protein consumption?

Just as a reminder on a very basic level when we exercise, muscle tissue breaks down and then the body activates muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to repair muscle.

The ratio of MPS to MPB (breakdown) determines whether muscle tissues are built or lost. If MPS is higher than MP Breakdown, muscle growth is achieved. If MPB is higher than MPS, the opposite occurs.


When we eat protein, it’s digested and broken down into amino acids which are used for many functions including muscle rebuilding.

We should take into consideration

·      we may not digest and absorb protein optimally as we age

·      ageing skeletal muscle has a reduced ability to respond to amino acid levels

 This leads us to support the research that protein intake above RDA (recommended daily allowance) may be of benefit in postmenopausal women – 1.2g – 1.6g/kg/BW per day.

There is a debate whether protein pulse feeding (in one meal) is more efficient than protein spread feeding (over a day) in improving protein retention and post prandial amino acid concentrations.

One study said

·      frequent and consistent consumption of meals containing 30–45 g of protein or protein supplementation at breakfast and lunch have been recently associated with better lean mass preservation in older people

Another study

·      found no differences comparing the effect of protein distribution pattern on functional outcome and protein kinetics

Our view is it’s best to spread your protein across your meals and some snacks, we feel that digestion will be more effective in this way and as we know it’ll also support blood sugar balance and therefore even energy levels and body composition too.


 Insights on quality of protein and specific amino acids to consider?

Research indicates that whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein turnover i.e. the continuing breakdown and synthesis of proteins in the body, with recycling of amino acids. This is because whey is digested quickly and has a high concentration of the amino acid leucine which triggers the muscle building cascade.

Leucine is a BCAA – branch chain amino acid –other BCAA are isoleucine and valine, they are broken down predominantly in muscle ie. they bypass the liver, therefore are efficient activators of muscle synthesis.

If you choose to use a protein supplement powder, then we’d suggest selecting a whey based one or one including BCAAs.

Protein foods which include BCAAs are

  • meat, poultry, and fish
  • eggs
  • dairy products, such as milk and cheese
  • nuts and seeds
  • soy products, such as tofu and tempeh
  • legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils


BCAAs are essential amino acids. The body cannot make them, so a person needs to get BCAAs from their diet or as supplements.

We always say “Food First” so please focus on getting your daily protein requirements from real food and use protein powders as supplements perhaps as part of a smoothie or as an ingredient in a protein ball or bar or meal.


 The rationale behind the advice to have protein foods after a strength training session

 Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) can be enhanced by consuming protein immediately following resistance exercise. The amino acids derived from protein will then be shuttled to your muscles, replacing any lost to exercise. Stimulating MPS through exercise and diet can help accelerate muscle growth, improve recovery and athletic performance, as well as helping to increase overall endurance. It’s thought that there is an increased amino acid delivery to the muscle through blood flow after exercise. BUT MPS will continue for up to 24hrs following exercise, as long as there are sufficient Amino Acids available, so maintaining protein intake throughout the day following exercise is also important.  


 A suggested exercise framework for mid-life women

 Musculoskeletal health is vital as we age, many women cross train and may add in pilates and yoga to their exercise plans alongside running training.

Resistance exercise is a trigger for muscle protein synthesis and can work in synergy with adequate protein intake

Our area of expertise is nutrition, not exercise, however we found a really interesting study which looked at nutrition and exercise together.

2018 review study - Muscle and Bone Health in Postmenopausal Women: Role of Protein and Vitamin D Supplementation Combined with Exercise Training

They examined the rationale and the effects of dietary protein, vitamin D and calcium supplementation combined with a specifically-designed exercise training prescription as a strategy to counteract these postmenopausal-associated disorders.

It was the exercise component I wanted to mention – they quote the ACSM’s (American College of Sports Medicine) FITT_VP principle which is short for

Frequency – Intensity – Time – Type (FITT) – Volume – Progression (VP)

The ACSM have an exercise prescription formula for many different areas of exercise and this review study used their formula and incorporated insights from other studies to make recommendations for post menopausal women

What do they recommend?

There’s a lot of information so we’ll just give you a broad overview

Every week it’s recommended women have a mix of different types of exercise

·      Aerobic (cardio endurance) exercise

·      Resistance (strength)

·      Flexibility (stretching)

·      Balance

For Aerobic (which includes Weight-bearing activity [walking, jogging, dancing, or other activities where full body weight is supported by limbs] for us it would be running …. They recommend 5 x moderate sessions of 30 - 60 mins and 3 x vigorous sessions of 20-60 minutes per week

For Resistance - Any form of movement designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a muscle or a muscle group against external resistance: exercise and breathing techniques are of paramount importance [free weights, resistance machines, weight-bearing functional tasks. They recommend exercise for novice or experienced exercisers and suggest 8-12 reps of no more than 8 exercises in 1-2 sessions for novices or 2-3 for more experienced exercisers - per week

Flexibility – they suggest a set of stretching exercise 3 x week

Balance – they suggest 20 minutes daily – a mixture of standing still balances progressing to from “dynamic” balancing exercise – where you may work through a flow of exercise

Here is a link to this paper, look at pages 7 and 8 to see the tables on exercise




1.    Reasons for a Runner to build lean muscle mass:

 o  Lean muscle mass increases metabolism, you’ll burn more calories supporting weight management and body composition.

o  A strong core improves running efficiency in your movement and form leading less fatigue and improved endurance

o  Well-conditioned muscles perform better over distance

o  Good form and endurance will lead to a faster pace

o  Minimise the risk of injury by minimizing muscle imbalances or weaknesses 

2.    Muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60

3.    As runners that we take steps to preserve our muscle mass and aim to slow down this loss of muscle mass

4.    A natural decline in oestrogen, in particular estrodiol is implicated in changes in muscle regeneration in menopausal women

5.    Muscle and bones interact biomechanically and biochemically to maintain healthy skeletal muscles. This may also support the prevention or progression of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

6.    Protein intake is essential for Muscle Protein Synthesis.  Protein intake above RDA (recommended daily allowance) may be of benefits in postmenopausal women. Suggested intake is between 1.2g – 1.6g/kg/Body Weight per day

7.    Choosing foods or protein supplements which include BCAA’s, especially Leucine will help to trigger the muscle building cascade

8.    Resistance exercise is a trigger for muscle protein synthesis and can work in synergy with adequate protein intake.

9.    We suggest following ACSM’s (American College of Sports Medicine) FITT_VP principle which is short for Frequency – Intensity – Time – Type (FITT) – Volume – Progression (VP)

Related Topics:

Bone Health For Runners Part 1

Bone Health For Runners Part 2

Protein Powders - do runners need them?


The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and

advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.

If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact

your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell met at as nutrition students (Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London) and became lifelong friends and nutritional buddies! Both have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living.

Together they host RUNNERS HEALTH HUB. A place for like-minded runners who are looking for simple ways to support running performance, energy, endurance, and general great health.

We are excited to be able to share our expertise, experience and short cuts with you. We hope you'll join us again. If you'd like to know more about us and She Runs Eats Performs please check out our TRAILER.

If you're ready to make learn more about how you may introduce easy nutrition into your running and training plan join our Easy Nutrition For Healthy Runners Online Programme for short videos, recipes, downloads and LIVE training and Q&A.


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About the Podcast

She Runs Eats Performs
for mid-life female runners of all abilities
Are you confused about the science around nutrition for runners? Listen in to learn about the WHY, HOW, WHAT, and WHEN of eating to fuel your running performance.

We are here to help you translate sports nutritional science, into easy to apply tips and plans, helping you enjoy peak running performance. We focus on the FEMALE FACTORS every mid-life woman needs to know to be a healthy runner.

About your host

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Aileen Smith

Nutritionists, Educators, Podcasters, Runners and Friends

We have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living. She Runs Eats Performs for female runners of all abilities who are looking for simple ways to improve their running performance and their health with nutrition and lifestyle.
We enjoy sharing our nutritional expertise, reviewing the latest sports science and most of all helping you to take easy action so you can enjoy your running life to the full.
We are here to help you achieve great health and good shape whilst staying injury-free with easy-to-understand sports nutritional concepts and easy-to-implement tips and plans.

Aileen and Karen are BANT and CNHC Registered Nutritional Therapists.