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Want To Build Muscle After 60? Make Sure You Get Enough Of This (Not Protein)


Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN

July 10, 2024

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

By Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University. She lives in Newport Beach, California, and enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences health and wellbeing.

Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy

July 10, 2024

Most people couple muscle growth with protein supplements. And while getting enough protein daily is absolutely vital to build strong muscle, it’s not the only supplement that can be beneficial. 

Research shows that pairing strength training with fish oil1 can improve both muscle function and measures of heart health for women in their 60s—a time when maintaining muscle health is hard but needed. 

It’s estimated that we lose around 3-8% of our muscle mass2 each decade after the age of 30.

And since estrogen levels are protective of muscle mass3, even greater amounts of muscle loss are seen after the menopause transition—as well as an increased risk for heart disease. 

So, this fitness and supplement regimen can help tackle two of the main health concerns women face after menopause—no prior weight training experience required. 

How the study was set up 

In this study, researchers set out to see if eight weeks of omega-3-rich fish oil and a strength training program had a more profound effect on physical function, blood pressure, triglycerides, and inflammation than just strength training alone. 

To do this, 20 women (with an average age of 65) were randomly assigned to one of those two groups. Everyone underwent two supervised weight training sessions each week—targeting all major muscle groups and progressing in load each week. 

Half the women also took a total of 2,820 milligrams of fish oil daily. None of these women were taking a fish oil supplement or doing any type of strength training before the study. 

The benefits of weight training & fish oil 

After eight weeks, physical function (for things like leg strength and walking speed) improved across the board. 

Those in the fish oil group did have a significant edge on a few of the outcomes. Their grip strength (which is an underrated measure of overall longevity4) was better, their blood pressure dropped, their triglyceride levels improved, and they had less inflammation.

The women who only participated in the strength training regimen really only saw a shift in markers of muscle health (which is still exciting!), whereas those benefits were amplified among those taking the 2,820 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA omega-3 fish oil.

It also seems like the heart health and inflammatory benefits they noticed could be primarily attributed to the fish oil.

These findings align with previous research

It’s important to note that weight training has heaps of evidence supporting its role in muscle growth, body composition5, and managing chronic inflammation6. So this eight-week-long study may not have been sufficient time for the weight training program alone to nudge inflammation in a more favorable direction. 

Previous research looking at strength training’s impact on heart-health markers1 like blood pressure and triglycerides has been inconsistent, so it’s not surprising that those markers didn’t significantly improve for that group.

There’s a lot of evidence showing that omega-3 fats (especially EPA and DHA from fish oil) are an effective solution to lower blood pressure and triglycerides. 

What does this mean for you?

First and foremost, this study is a great reminder that it’s never too late to pick up a new exercise program. Even just two days a week can have such a meaningful impact on your muscle mass and overall well-being. 

If you’re intimidated or don’t know where to start, we have a great guide to get you started at home (that’s right, you don’t have to leave your living room if you don’t want to). If you want a more structured program, see about reaching out to a local gym for personal training or small group practices to learn your way and build confidence in using the machines and in your own abilities. 

Next is choosing a quality fish oil supplement and deciding how much to take. There’s likely no way you’ll reach the amount of fish oil used in this study through the diet alone—it would require eating more than a fish a day. So yes, a fish oil supplement is needed if you’re looking for these benefits. 

Most fish oil capsules provide 500-1,000 milligrams. So, if you want to match (or get close to) the dose this study used, You may have to take upward of three or four capsules to do so. Since this is a high amount of fish oil, talk with a health care provider before trying it. 

The takeaway

Maintaining muscle mass and heart health should be two of your top health priorities after menopause, and combining strength training and taking a high-quality fish oil are two science-backed ways to address those concerns head-on. 

This study showed that you should start to see some meaningful change in as few as two months. Now, imagine the impact of following this routine for years. A third of your life7 is spent living in postmenopause.

These are two relatively easy things you can do to help make this part of your life a long and healthy one. 

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