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The average man’s body has a higher percentage of muscle than the average woman’s -- about 36% more -- but that doesn’t mean that men can take their advantage for granted. Men reach their peak testosterone level in their teens and early 20s, meaning that as years pass, testosterone levels will drop, and it will be harder to build and retain muscle strength and mass.

michael smith

So what can you do to help stave off the decline and stay fit and muscular as you get older? Muscle mass largely depends on two things -- what you eat and how you work your body.

Proper nutrition for muscle-building includes:

  • Plenty of protein. To build muscle, protein should make up 10% to 35% of your daily calories. Think low-fat dairy, lean meats, fish, and small amounts of nuts. Protein needs for athletes may be higher. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, athletes need to eat between 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
  • Carbohydrates. About half of your daily calories should come from carbs such as whole-grain bread, whole grain pasta, and high-fiber fruits like apples. In general, for most physically active people, 5 to 8 grams per pound of body weight per day of carbs should be enough.
  • Fats. Fats are a source of energy, especially for endurance activities. Dietary fats should come from healthy fats -- avoid unhealthy, saturated fats or trans fats, like those often found in fried foods. Instead, go for fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, nuts, olive oil, and avocados that contain omega-3 fatty acids.

But food is only one half of the equation. The other half is exercise, particularly resistance training. At least twice a week, you need to engage in activity that puts strain on your muscles. That doesn’t have to be lifting weights, although it's an option. You can also:

  • Use your weight. Engage in activities that use your own body’s weight against your muscles, such as push-ups and lunges.
  • Join the band. Use resistance bands -- these travel well and can be used virtually anywhere.
  • Other activities. Incorporate strength work into your daily activities, via work like shoveling snow or digging a garden plot.

Be sure to work all muscle groups -- legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms at least twice a week.

As with any exercise program, make sure you consult a doctor before starting any physical fitness plan.