Losing muscle mass as you age is unfortunately inevitable. But we do know there are tons of things we can do to prevent and slow it. For instance, exercising in and of itself helps you maintain your muscles well in to old age. What’s more, there are certain foods you can eat that can help you build and keep your strength. But, when you think of those foods you probably think of protein-packed eats filled with vitamin D and calcium. And while those are great for muscle building, there are also some more surprising things you should add to your grocery cart, per a new study out of the University of Iowa.
Researchers in this study, published in the journal of Biological Chemistry, put elderly mice with age-related muscle weakness on a diet containing or lacking either 0.27 percent of ursolic acid—which is found in apple peels—or 0.05 percent of tomatidine—which comes from green tomatoes—for two months. At the study’s conclusion, the researchers discovered both of these compounds increased muscle mass by 10 percent, and increased muscle quality (or strength) by 30 percent.
Here’s why: our muscles atrophy over time because of a protein called ATF4 (activating transcription factor 4), which changes the gene structure in skeletal muscle, effectively shriveling your size and strength. But ursolic acid and tomatidine, turn off the genes activated by ATF4.
Though there has been no testing done on humans, Christopher Adams, M.D., Ph.D., professor of internal medicine in the UI Carver College of Medicine, and senior study author says, “We predict and hope to see similar effects in humans,” and he adds, “to obtain equivalent amounts of these compounds (ursolic acid or tomatidine) as the mice in the study received, we estimate that a person would likely need to eat a large quantity of apple peel or green tomato.”
But if that doesn’t sound appetizing, don’t worry: Now, the researchers are hoping “to translate ursolic acid and tomatidine into foods, supplements, and pharmaceuticals” to help you maintain quality muscle throughout your lifetime (without binging on green tomatoes and apple peels.)
Of course consuming a diet rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, and developing a workout regimen will help keep you looking and feeling young, too. While you’re at it, check out our guide on How To Live To Be 100.