Building muscle at any age can be a challenging process; it takes time, dedication and persistence. But the older you get, the harder it becomes. As men age, their testosterone levels drop, which makes it harder to build muscle. However, harder doesn't mean impossible. With the right training program and nutrition plan and by taking into consideration several important factors, you can still build muscle and look great at age 55.
The main issue to consider is the level of testosterone, a sex hormone that plays a major role in building muscle. According to nutritionist Ryan Andrews, testosterone production declines with age. Not only does this make muscle building tougher, but it can slow your metabolism and result in fat gain. However, this isn't a foregone conclusion -- addressing your training and diet can increase testosterone levels. Another consideration is the potential for injury. As you age, joints can get stiffer and muscles weaker, meaning there may be some exercises or movements you can't do, and others that you have to build up to very gradually.
Weight training is the No. 1 way to increase testosterone levels and build muscle. Fifty-five-year-old novice lifters will do best following a full-body workout performed two to three times per week, says Caleb Lee of strength-training website Critical Bench. Full-body workouts are better for increasing testosterone and growth hormone production than split workouts, where you exercise one muscle group one day and another the next day. Full-body workouts also stimulate your metabolism more than split workouts do. Focus on compound exercises such as squats, dead lifts, bench presses and rows. Pick four exercises per session that work your whole body, and do five sets of eight to 10 reps on each. Use a weight that is challenging but allows you to complete all sets with perfect form. Start light, and gradually increase your weights and reps week after week.
Just behind training comes nutrition. According to Mark Sisson, author of "The Primal Blueprint," high protein intake is essential for optimal muscle growth, and essential fats are needed for hormone production. Include a portion of protein from lean meat, fish, eggs or dairy in every meal, along with a healthy fat source, such as avocado, olive oil, peanut butter, coconut or fish oils. Vegetables are a must, too, and should also be included at every sitting. Carbs are needed for recovery and energy, but overdoing them can lead to fat gain, so keep your carb sources to slow-digesting ones, such as brown rice, sweet potatoes and certain fruits, and only in meals before and after your workouts.
Viewing this as a gradual progress is essential. You must consider the loading principle -- to successfully build muscle, you need to constantly increase your weights or repetitions to challenge yourself and stimulate muscle growth, so try to add a couple of pounds to the bar or do an extra rep or two on each exercise every session. You may not get on with certain exercises, due to mobility issues or previous injuries, so change your training around if you need to, and consult with a trainer or doctor if you feel any adverse effects. Rest is just as important as training -- as you get older, it takes longer for your muscles and nervous system to recover, so don't be afraid to take an extra day off between sessions if you need to. Low intensity cardio, sports massages and stretching can also be useful for speeding up the recovery process.