Dear Mark: Protein Efficiency in Seniors, Earned Carbs, Hardgainer with Limited Time

For this week’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First, is the reduced protein efficiency in older adults due to inactivity, or is it something inherent to the aging process, or both? Second, how does a person know if they’ve actually “earned” any carbs? Does everyone on a keto diet earn carbs by virtue of exercising, or is there more to it? And finally, how can a hardgainer with a packed schedule all week long and limited gym time maintain what little muscle mass he’s managed to gain?

Let’s find out:

Interesting observation on protein needs and training in Sunday with Sisson – general consensus is that older folks need more protein as they age but maybe that’s because they are less active and not simply a result of aging.

That’s probably part of it, but it’s not all of it.

In studies where they compare resistance training seniors who eat extra protein with resistance training seniors who don’t, only the seniors eating extra protein gain muscle mass.

Now, it may be that a lifetime of inactivity degrades your ability to utilize protein, and if these older adults had always lifted weights they would have retained their protein efficiency. But maybe not. As it stands, all else being equal, an older adult needs more protein to get the same effect, even if he or she is lifting weights.

Enjoyable read. As someone who lives a ketogenic lifestyle, and who is athletically active, I am not sure exactly how to go about consuming the carbs I’ve “earned.” I rarely run into problems with athletic energy, at least not below anaerobic threshold. Not sure that eating more carbs will improve my performance. And, if they would improve my performance, how does one go about calculating earned carb replacement without losing the fat burning benefits of ketosis?

It sounds like you’re in a good place.

When I say “eat the carbs you earn,” I’m talking to the people who do run into problems with athletic energy, poor performance, insomnia, and other symptoms of exercise-induced stress. Typically, the people who “earn their carbs” are doing stuff like CrossFit, high volume moderate-to-high intensity endurance work, martial arts training, and team sports.

I doubt extra carbs will improve your performance if most of your training takes place in the aerobic zone. But if you wanted to experiment, you could try a small sweet potato immediately after a workout where you passed the anaerobic threshold.

That’s the best way to determine if you’ve earned carbs. Eat 20-30 grams after a workout and see if you enjoy performance gains without gaining body fat. There’s no consumer-friendly way to directly calculate carb debt; self-experimentation is it.

I recently took a job that has me out of bed at 4am and not home until 6pm Monday Through Friday. Is there an efficient way I can maintain muscle mass only lifting weights Saturday and Sunday? I’m a hardgainer at 5’10” and only 140lbs. I’m afraid giving up my 5 day split will ruin what muscle I’ve been able to gain.

Any hardgainer has to eat, and eat, and eat. Increase your food intake. Just eat. Stick to healthy Primal fare, but pack in the food. Meat, milk, veggies, potatoes, rice, eggs, avocados, fruit. Throw some liver in, too (old bodybuilder staple). It doesn’t sound like fat gain is an issue for you, so I’d take advantage of that and just consume calories.

As for training, get some exercise snacks in during the week.

As soon as you wake up, do a quick superset of pushups. Do as many pushups as you can. Wait 30 seconds. Do as many pushups as you can. Wait 30 seconds. Do as many pushups as you can. There you go. That shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes in the morning. Can you squeeze that in?

Repeat this every morning with a different exercise. Pullups, bodyweight rows, kettlebell swings, handstand pushups, dips, bodyweight squats, goblet squats, reverse lunges, reverse weighted lunges. Just choose one thing to do every morning, cram as many reps as you can using the same format (max reps, 30 s rest, max reps, 30 s rest, max reps). Buy any equipment you can if you choose to use weights.

When you get home at night, do the same thing with a different exercise. Morning pushups, evening KB swings, etc. That way, you get about 10 minutes per weekday of intense strength training without impacting your sleep or schedule in any real meaningful way.

Make sure your sleep hygiene is rock solid. Dim those lights at night, turn on f.lux or night mode, wear the blue blocking goggles, get to bed (ideally) by 8:30, 9 to give you 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep. Sleep is essential for gaining lean mass (and staying healthy in general).

On the weekend, hit the weights hard on both days, hitting the entire body. Go high volume/reps. If size is your goal, dropping the weight a bit and focusing on range of motion and a high rep count (10-15 per set) is very effective.

Food, sleep, reps. Good luck!

Thanks for stopping in today, everybody. Additional thoughts for these folks—or questions of your own? Share them below.

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References:

Tieland M, Dirks ML, Van der zwaluw N, et al. Protein supplementation increases muscle mass gain during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in frail elderly people: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012;13(8):713-9.

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Glute and Hamstring Workout

Jessica Gouthro from Paleohacks is joining us today to offer tips for strengthening glutes and hamstrings without traditional gym equipment. Enjoy, everyone.

Strong glutes and hamstrings are more than just nice-looking legs and a booty.

The glutes and hamstrings are the strongest muscles in our skeletal muscular system. When we strengthen these muscles, we can prevent strain and injury while also enjoying a greater ability to squat deeper, lunge pain-free, push heavy objects, run faster and jump higher.

To best train those glutes and hamstrings, you’ll want to emphasize both leg curling (knee bending) and hip extension (or straightening) actions for balanced training. One of the best exercises that do this is the glute ham raise, or GHR.

Very few exercises can isolate the hamstrings and glutes without top-loading excess weight on the spine or testing your grip strength with a loaded barbell. Although you may think this exercise looks easy in comparison to a Barbell Romanian Deadlift or Hip Thrust, it is just as challenging (if not even more so) when performed correctly.

What Is a Glute Ham Raise?

A glute ham raise is an eccentric, or muscle lengthening, exercise that involves a fixed location of the feet, ankles, and hips and a hinge only at the knee joint. By securing the foot position and starting with a bent knee, we enable the hamstring to lengthen eccentrically against gravity using only our own body weight.

Rising back up to the starting position is done by a combination of hamstring contraction and assistance from the upper body pushing against the floor.

Typically, this exercise utilizes specialized equipment called a GHR machine (pictured) that can hold your feet and ankles in place and cushions your knees with a curved, shaped knee pad.

Since you may not have access to one of these in your home or gym, we have a great alternative you can do with a partner. All you need is a friend and a rolled-up towel to cushion your knees!

Partner Assisted Glute Ham Raise | 6 reps

Kneel down on a rolled-up towel. Tuck your toes under and straighten your hips. Lift your hands up in front of your shoulders and tighten your core.

Have your partner press down firmly on your ankles to secure your position. Keeping your hips and glutes tight, inhale as you slowly lean forward, hinging only at the knees.

Once you can no longer control the descent, use your hands to catch yourself and lower the rest of the way down. Push into the floor with your hands, and on an exhale, contract your glutes and hamstrings to rise back up to the starting position.

Complete six reps while your partner holds your ankles steady.

Note: This is an advanced exercise. If you find this exercise too challenging and cannot complete six good reps, you can try this next partner-assisted resistance band hamstring curl exercise as an alternative.

Partner-Assisted Kneeling Band Hamstring Curl | 8 reps per leg

Kneel down on a rolled-up towel, tuck your toes under, and get into an all-fours position. Extend one leg straight out behind you.

Have your partner loop a resistance band around your heel, just above your shoe. As your partner holds her end of the resistance band tight, bend your knee to curl your heel towards your butt.

Exhale and hold momentarily at 90 degrees, then slowly straighten to return to the starting position. Continue to bend and straighten your knee while maintaining that lifted leg position. Complete eight reps, then switch sides.

Note: You will feel this in your glutes on both sides as well as in your hamstring.

In case you don’t have a partner available, here are the five best glute and hamstring exercises you can do anywhere, by yourself. You’ll need a yoga mat, a towel, and an exercise band.

To get the most out of your efforts, I recommend performing all of these exercises at least two to three times per week.

Fire Hydrant | 10 per side

Kneel down in an all-fours position with your feet flexed (toes pointing to the floor). Lift one knee up and out to the side to hip height. Exhale at the top as you flex your glute muscles, then lower back down with control. Maintain a steady torso and upper body as you focus on contracting your glutes.


Complete 10 reps on one side, then switch to the other leg.

Note: Work slowly to ensure quality muscle contractions. Pause each time you hit the top and strongly contract your glutes. You’ll feel this on both sides, even though you’re working one side at a time.

Towel Slide Hamstring Curl | 8 reps

Sit at the bottom edge of your mat with the full length of your legs on a smooth surface floor, like hardwood or tile.
Lie down flat on your back and press your palms into the floor by your hips.

Place your heels on a towel and keep your feet flexed. (If you are working on carpet, use a piece of paper or two paper or plastic plates instead of a towel.)

Engage your glutes and lift your hips off the ground. On an exhale, bend your knees to slide the towel towards your butt. Stop when your knees reach a 90-degree bend. Inhale, and reverse by sliding back out to a straight body.

Complete eight reps, keeping your hips elevated the entire time.

Single Leg Toe Touch | 6 reps per side

Stand tall with your core tight and shoulders rolled back and down. Balance on one foot as you float the other just off the ground.

Inhale to hinge at the hips to tilt forward until your torso and top leg are parallel to the ground. Keep a slight bend in your standing leg and reach your fingertips towards your toes. Exhale to lift back up to standing, contracting your muscles.

Complete six reps per side.

Note: Keep your gaze on the ground to help with balance. If balance is still a challenge, you may hold onto a wall or chair with one hand while you do these reps.

Single Leg Balance Hamstring Curl | 6 reps per side

Balance on one leg with your torso and lifted leg parallel to the ground. Keep a small bend in your standing leg, and grab onto your quad for stability. On an exhale, curl your top leg towards your butt, while maintaining your hip and torso position.


Inhale to straighten your leg, reaching it out long behind you.

Continue six reps on one side, then complete six reps on the other side.

Single Leg Resistance Band Ham Curl | 6 reps per side

Slide one end of your loop resistance band underneath your left heel, pressing down with your heel to secure its position.

Lift your right leg. Loop your right heel through the other end of the band, positioning it on the back of your shoe. Place both hands on your left knee and hinge at your hips with your spine straight.

Exhale to bend your right knee to 90 degrees, then inhale as you lower back down with control, maintaining a small amount of tension on the band so it does not come loose. Your range of motion should be about eight to 10 inches.

Complete six reps, then switch sides.

Note: Hold onto a wall or a chair for balance if you need to.

How To Incorporate This Weekly Workout

Here’s a sample workout you can incorporate into your weekly routine.

Warm up with three minutes of light walking or jogging. Follow with three rounds of the circuit of seven exercises, resting for 10-30 seconds between exercises depending on your fitness level.

Note: Beginners can do just one round and work up to three rounds after a few weeks.

  • Partner-Assisted Glute Ham Raise [OR] Partner Assisted Kneeling Band | 6 reps
  • Hamstring Curl | 8 reps per leg
  • Fire Hydrant | 10 per side
  • Towel Slide Hamstring Curl | 8 reps
  • Single Leg Toe Touch | 6 reps per side
  • Single Leg Balance Hamstring Curl | 6 reps per side
  • Single Leg Resistance Band Ham Curl | 6 reps per side

Thanks again to Jessica Gouthro for these tips and to Brad Gouthro for demonstrating them. Be sure to check out Jessica’s other workout lineups on MDA:“Arm Workout Without Weights,” “13 Ways To Move More At Work” and “10 Moves To Help Ease Joint Pain.”

Questions or comments about exercises or glute and hamstring strength? Share them below, and thanks for stopping by.

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