talkhealth meets...Claire Baseley
Claire Baseley hosted a webinar on the importance of retaining muscle mass as we age,WATCH CLAIRE'S WEBINAR ON-DEMAND!
Claire is an experienced Registered Nutritionist with a BA in Biological Science from Oxford University and an MSc in Human Nutrition from Sheffield University. She specialises in nutrition in mid-life and beyond, sports nutrition, infant nutrition and general healthy eating. We were keen to meet her beforehand and put a series of questions to her, the answers can be found below:
When did your own journey into health and fitness begin?
I wasn’t much of an athlete at school but in adulthood, I started to really enjoy weight training and ended up competing at a regional level in the bikini fitness category. I’ve since focused more on strength and fitness rather than aesthetics and now train purely for holistic health, lifting weights, swimming, walking and doing HIIT workouts.
Why is it so important for us to retain muscle mass as we get older?
We lose 1-3% of our muscle mass for each year that we age once we are 50+. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it adds up over time and can lead to a progressive loss of strength that can significantly impact day to day living. Activities that were once easy like carrying shopping bags from the car, walking down the stairs unaided or getting up from a chair can become a challenge due to the loss of muscle strength, particularly in the core muscles that are needed for balance. Over the years, the risk of falls increases, in part due to poor core strength and this can lead to fractures that may be slow to heal. Fortunately, there are simple measures you can take to reduce the risk of age-related muscle loss.
What role does nutrition play in building lean muscle mass?
Maintaining or building our muscles requires sufficient protein in the diet. It’s a good idea to eat a protein food with each meal to ensure the muscles are not only receiving enough protein each day but also that the protein is supplied at regular intervals. This is particularly important if you are physically active as protein can help muscles to repair and recover following strength and fitness training.
What are your hero foods for supporting strength goals?
Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, dairy foods, soy products and pulses. It’s possible to get enough protein on a vegetarian, plant-based or vegan diet but it’s best to consume a wide variety of protein foods to ensure the best protein quality. For those eating a plant-based diet, cereals, grains and seeds like quinoa, oats, amaranth and rice can contribute useful amounts of protein when consumed alongside protein-rich foods like soy and pulses.
What are your top tips for getting strong in middle age?
Try some resistance training. It doesn’t mean joining a gym and lifting 50kg on the bench press! It could be as simple as some bodyweight exercises at home, like squats, lunges, modified or full press-ups and arm curls with tins of tomatoes. Resistance bands are widely available and are relatively cheap, often coming with tips for simple exercises you can do to build up muscle strength. Try to do some resistance training 2-3 times a week as well as some cardiovascular training – a brisk walk is enough – to keep your muscles, bones and heart-healthy.
Do you believe in supplementing with protein powders and vitamins?
I always take a food first approach and recommend that you eat protein-rich foods at each meal. But protein supplements, whether they are based around whey, soy or other plant-based proteins can offer a convenient way to consume protein when you’re in a rush, on the go or if you have a small appetite. Breakfast is typically a low protein meal for many as the quickest options like cereal or toast don’t deliver much in the way of protein. Adding a protein shake at breakfast can help you introduce protein in a quick and convenient format but you could eat yoghurt or eggs if you have time. Supplements are just that – an addition to an already healthy varied diet.
When it comes to other nutrients, I always recommend a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms a day between October and March (or through the year if you don’t get much sun exposure in the summer).
As we age, we need to also think about consuming enough calcium, magnesium, folate and vitamin B12 to keep muscles, bones, hearts and brains functioning normally. You should be able to get enough of these nutrients by eating a varied diet that contains dairy foods (and optionally animal products like eggs, meat and fish), plenty of vegetables and a variety of cereals but if you eat a predominantly plant-based diet with minimal animal-derived foods then you may wish to consider a supplement.
What are the most common /biggest nutrition mistakes many of us make when we’re older?
We continue to eat the way we always have when our bodies have changed. This could be eating the same amount of food we always have at a time when we have a lower metabolic rate and tend to be less active. This can lead to weight gain or the infamous middle-aged spread! Many of us also don’t realise that our needs for certain nutrients, particularly protein, change as we age. To reduce the risk of age-related muscle loss, we actually might need to eat more protein than when we were younger because our muscles become less responsive to the protein we eat.
Do menopausal/postmenopausal women have different nutritional needs to younger women?
During and after the menopause, the lack of oestrogen increases the risk of developing osteoporosis or brittle bones. It’s important to eat a diet that can help support our bones as we age. This is also important for men but particularly important for postmenopausal women. The nutrients that support bones also tend to support muscles too so try to focus on these 4 nutrients to protect bones and muscles.
Protein – eat a protein food with each meal and try to eat one or two protein-rich snacks a day. If you can eat 25-30g protein per meal and about 10g in a snack, that will help you meet your daily protein needs. For more tips on what foods deliver protein, check out my blog: http://www.clairebaseley.co.uk/2019/02/13/5-key-nutrients-for-a-healthy-menopause/
Vitamin D – as this vitamin is only present in a limited number of foods, it’s best to take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms.
Calcium – this mineral can be found in dairy foods, sesame seeds and nuts, calcium-set tofu, soy products, fortified alternative milks and green vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage.
Omega 3 – we often don’t eat enough of these anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy fats. You can find them in oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel as well as in chia and flax seeds. If you don’t eat these foods then you might want to consider a supplement. I’d go for those containing EPA and DHA either from fish or marine algae.
Should we be engaging in different forms of exercise during menopause than at other times of our lives?
Any exercise that is good for muscles, bones and heart health is important when we go through the menopause and beyond. Resistance training in particular may help to reduce the age-related muscle loss that begins around the time women start to experience menopausal symptoms. It can be as simple yoga or pilates, bodyweight or resistance band exercises but try to do some resistance activity 2-3 times a week. Walking or jogging aren’t just good for heart health. Weight-bearing cardiovascular activity is also good for bone health, so try to go for a walk, even a short one, every day if you can or build your steps up with an online workout at home.
How should nutrition and training differ for men and women as we age?
It’s equally important for both men and women to eat enough protein and include resistance activity into their life to support muscles and bones in ageing but women should pay particular attention to bone-healthy foods and activities, as described above, to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
It’s also important to include cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging, swimming or cycling into your lifestyle to help protect your heart. You can also do this by adopting a Mediterranean style diet, rich in plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, cereals and pulses, with smaller amounts of fish and meat, opting for healthy fats from nuts and seeds or olive oil in favour of saturated fats found in butter and fatty meat.
What are your 3 top tips for staying fit and healthy at any age?
Find a type of exercise you like doing and try to do it a few times a week. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick to it so it’s important to find something that works for you, whether it’s a yoga or dance class or online resistance band workouts.
Eat a varied balanced diet that provides enough protein that’s mainly plant-based but don’t exclude the foods that you love. As soon as you ban something, it’s all you want to eat. You can treat yourself as long as the majority of your diet is relatively healthy.
Be happy! Stress and anxiety could be as detrimental to health as a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Try to make time to see friends and family, keep in touch with your social network and practise daily meditation or breathing exercises to prioritise your mental health.
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 6 January 2021
Next review: 6 January 2024