Muscle mass: Benefits, percentage, tips, diet, supplements

Have you ever wondered how some people manage to look and feel younger than their actual age? Surprisingly, a key factor could be the muscle mass they maintain throughout their lives. 

According to research, having more muscle mass is associated with lower chronic disease risk and a longer, healthier life [1].

This fascinating insight into longevity underscores the importance of muscle health for athletes and everyone aiming to lead a vibrant, active life. 

This comprehensive guide will explore the myriad benefits of optimizing muscle mass, how to measure it accurately, and practical strategies for enhancing it through diet, exercise, and supplements. 

With expert advice and actionable tips, you’ll understand how muscle mass plays a crucial role in overall health and well-being.

What is muscle mass?

Muscle mass is the amount of muscle in your body, excluding fat, bones, and other organs. 

It is pivotal in providing strength and power for daily activities, maintaining metabolic health, supporting posture, and protecting against injury. 

Understanding the distinction between muscle mass and body fat is crucial for assessing overall health. 

Excess body fat, especially around the abdomen, can pose health risks, unlike muscle mass, which has various health benefits.

The body contains three types of muscles: skeletal, cardiac, and smooth. Skeletal muscles, under your voluntary control, are the primary focus when talking about increasing muscle mass. 

These muscles attach to bones and are responsible for all movements, from lifting weights to blinking. 

Cardiac muscle, found only in the heart, pumps blood throughout the body and operates independently of our conscious control. 

Smooth muscles, which line the walls of internal organs like the stomach and blood vessels, also work involuntarily. They play key roles in processes such as digestion and blood pressure regulation.

Resistance training and proper nutrition help build muscle, improve appearance, and boost metabolism for weight management.

Stronger muscles reduce the burden on your joints and bones, lowering the risk of injuries and osteoporosis. Moreover, muscle strength contributes to better balance and stability, which are crucial for preventing falls, especially as you age.

what is muscle mass

What is the benefit of having muscle mass?

Elevating your muscle mass can transform your health and wellness landscape in ways you might not have imagined. 

It’s not merely about achieving an aesthetically pleasing physique; the benefits extend deeply into your metabolic health, physical capabilities, mental well-being, and disease prevention.

Increases metabolic rate

One of the most compelling advantages is the boost in your metabolic rate. Muscle tissue is metabolically active. This means it burns calories even when you’re at rest. 

This increased metabolic rate is key to effective weight management and fat loss, helping you maintain a healthier body composition over time.

Enhances strength, mobility, and balance

But the benefits don’t stop at metabolism. Enhanced strength, mobility, and balance are direct outcomes of increased muscle mass. 

These improvements enable you to perform daily tasks efficiently, reduce the risk of falls and injuries, and enjoy a more active lifestyle. 

Whether carrying groceries, climbing stairs, or engaging in sports, stronger muscles make it more manageable.

Stimulates bone growth

Moreover, muscle-strengthening activities benefit your skeletal system. Resistance training stimulates bone growth [2], leading to increased bone density. 

This bone fortification significantly reduces the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes brittle bones and makes them more prone to fractures.

Improves endurance and athletic performance

With greater muscle mass, your body can handle prolonged physical activity, recover faster, and perform better in sports and exercises. This is beneficial not just for athletes but also anyone looking to improve their physical capabilities.

Boosts mental health

The mental health benefits are equally impressive. Regular exercise that builds muscle can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and improve cognitive function. It’s a powerful tool for promoting overall mental wellness and managing stress.

Decreases chronic disease risk

Lastly, increasing muscle mass is critical in decreasing the risk of chronic diseases. Stronger muscles are associated with improved insulin sensitivity, helping prevent type 2 diabetes. 

Additionally, muscle-building activities contribute to better cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of heart disease.

By embracing a lifestyle that promotes muscle growth, you’re not only sculpting a stronger body but also paving the way for a healthier, more vibrant life.

What is a good percentage of muscle mass?

Muscle mass percentage is a critical indicator of overall health and fitness. It represents the proportion of your total body weight that is muscle. 

This metric is a powerful tool for evaluating your body’s composition, setting realistic fitness goals, and tracking progress over time.

How to measure your muscle mass percentage

Various methods can be used to measure muscle mass percentage, each with its own level of accuracy and accessibility. 

  • Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) 

These devices, often found in fitness centers or as part of smart scales, estimate body composition by sending a weak electrical current through the body, including muscle mass.

  • Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)

For those seeking more precise measurements, DEXA scans or hydrostatic weighing offer clinical-grade accuracy but come with higher costs and less convenience.

What’s the ideal muscle mass percentage?

The ideal muscle mass percentage varies significantly across different ages and genders, reflecting the natural differences in body composition

Generally, men are expected to have a higher muscle mass percentage than women [3] due to several factors, like hormonal differences, that influence muscle growth. 

Young adults might aim for higher percentages than older adults, acknowledging the natural decline in muscle mass with age. 

However, optimal ranges are broad and should be interpreted flexibly, focusing on individual health and fitness goals rather than strict benchmarks.

Factors affecting muscle mass percentage

Several factors influence your muscle mass percentage, including:

  • Genetics, which can predispose individuals to faster muscle gain or higher baseline muscle mass.
  • Diet and nutrition, as adequate protein intake and balanced diets are crucial for muscle repair and growth.
  • Physical activity, especially resistance and strength training exercises, stimulates muscle hypertrophy.
  • Lifestyle factors, such as sleep quality and stress levels, can affect hormone levels and body composition.
  • Age, with muscle mass naturally declining as part of the aging process, makes it essential to adapt fitness routines over time.

Understanding and optimizing your muscle mass percentage is not about striving for a universal ideal but recognizing and working towards what’s healthiest and most attainable for your body. 

Tailoring your fitness and nutrition plans to support muscle growth can improve metabolic health, strength, and overall well-being. 

Remember, progress takes time, and small, consistent efforts can significantly change your muscle mass percentage and how you feel in your skin.

How can I increase my muscle mass?

Building and maintaining muscle mass is a dynamic process that requires a strategic approach to exercise, rest, and overall lifestyle. 

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to enhance your current regimen, incorporating these tips can significantly improve muscle strength and size.

Resistance and strength training

The cornerstone of muscle building, resistance training, encompasses activities that use weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight to challenge your muscles. 

Incorporating exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses into your routine at least 2-3 times a week can stimulate muscle growth by causing small tears in muscle fibers, which then repair and grow stronger. 

Aim for various exercises that target all major muscle groups to ensure balanced growth.

Cardiovascular exercises

While often associated with fat loss, cardio plays a crucial role in muscle building, too. It improves heart health and increases blood flow to muscles, delivering the oxygen and nutrients needed for recovery and growth. 

Incorporate moderate cardio sessions a few times a week. Focus on activities you enjoy, like cycling, running, or swimming, to support overall fitness without compromising muscle mass.

Recovery and rest days

Give your muscles time to rest and recover as this is crucial for growth and strength. Rest days are just as important as workouts.

Include active recovery activities, like light walking or yoga, to keep your body moving and aid muscle recovery. 

Ensure you’re also getting enough sleep, as this is when most muscle repair occurs.

Consistency and patience

The most important tip is to stay consistent and patient with your efforts. Building muscle is a gradual process that requires regularity in your workouts, nutrition, and rest habits. 

Set realistic goals and celebrate the small victories along the way. Remember, progress might not always be linear, but with dedication and time, you will see improvements.

What foods are good for muscle mass?

A well-balanced diet is fundamental to building and maintaining muscle mass. It provides the energy and nutrients your body needs to perform, recover, and grow. 

Understanding the role of macronutrients, proper hydration, and dietary adjustments, especially for vegans and vegetarians, is crucial in supporting your muscle-building goals.

Macronutrients

Plant-based options include lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa. Incorporating various protein sources throughout the day ensures a steady supply of amino acids to your muscles.

  • Carbohydrates – Often misunderstood, carbohydrates are vital for energy. They fuel your workouts and help with recovery. 

Focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes to give your body a slow and steady release of energy.

  • Fats – Healthy fats, including those responsible for muscle growth, are crucial for hormone production. 

Avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish are excellent sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Plan meals around your workouts, consuming a mix of carbohydrates and proteins before and after exercises to optimize energy levels and muscle recovery. 

A balanced plate with a protein source, whole grains, and vegetables ensures you get a mix of essential nutrients. 

Prepare meals in advance to help maintain consistency in your diet, making it easier to stick to your muscle-building goals.

Hydrate 

Water is vital in transporting nutrients to your muscles and removing waste products. 

Stay hydrated to improve exercise performance and aid in recovery. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water daily, more if you’re exercising vigorously or in a hot climate.

Dietary considerations for vegans and vegetarians

Different plant-based diets require careful planning to ensure adequate protein intake. Legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and plant-based protein powders are excellent sources. 

Consider incorporating fortified foods or supplements to meet requirements for other nutrients essential for muscle health, such as Vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

A strategic approach to nutrition can significantly impact your muscle-building efforts. Tailoring your diet to your specific needs and preferences supports muscle growth and enhances overall health and wellness.

What are the best supplements to build muscle mass?

While proper nutrition and exercise are essential, certain supplements can improve muscle recovery, performance, and growth. Here’s an overview of some popular supplements and how they work:

Whey protein

One of the most popular and well-researched supplements, whey protein, is prized for its high-quality protein content and fast absorption rate. 

It provides a convenient way to ensure you meet your daily protein requirements, supporting muscle repair and growth. 

Consuming whey protein post-workout can help kickstart recovery, promoting muscle synthesis.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs contain three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are crucial for muscle protein synthesis and can reduce muscle soreness, making them a favorite among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. 

These supplements can be particularly beneficial during intense training or dieting, helping preserve muscle mass.

Creatine

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that plays a key role in energy production during high-intensity, short-duration activities like lifting weights or sprinting. 

Supplementing with creatine can enhance strength, power, and muscle volume, primarily by increasing the availability of creatine phosphate, an essential energy source for heavy lifting and explosive movements.

Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB)

HMB is a metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine, which plays a pivotal role in protein synthesis and muscle repair [4]. 

It has been shown to support muscle growth by minimizing the breakdown of muscle proteins and enhancing recovery from intense exercise. 

This can be particularly beneficial for those new to strength training or returning after a hiatus, as it helps reduce muscle damage and soreness. 

HMB’s protective effects make it a valuable supplement for maintaining muscle mass during reduced training intensity or when dieting.

Beta-alanine

This non-essential amino acid is well-known for its ability to increase muscle carnosine levels. Carnosine acts as a buffer against the accumulation of hydrogen ions during high-intensity exercise, which is a primary cause of muscle fatigue. 

Beta-alanine supplementation can enhance exercise performance, delay fatigue, and improve overall workout capacity by increasing intramuscular carnosine concentrations [5]. 

This makes beta-alanine particularly useful for athletes and fitness enthusiasts engaged in activities that require bursts of effort or sustained high-intensity performance.

Incorporating Beta-Alanine and HMB into your supplementation strategy, alongside whey protein, BCAAs, and creatine, can provide a comprehensive approach to support muscle growth, performance, and recovery. 

Each of these supplements offers unique benefits that can help you achieve your fitness goals, whether you want to gain muscle, enhance strength, or improve endurance.

What are the best supplements to build muscle mass?

How do you overcome plateaus and overcome injuries when gaining muscle mass?

Building muscle and improving fitness is a journey filled with ups and downs. At times, you may encounter plateaus in muscle growth, injuries, or find it challenging to balance muscle building with fat loss. 

Recognizing these challenges and implementing effective strategies can help you progress toward your goals.

How to break through plateaus in muscle growth

Plateaus occur when you no longer see strength or muscle size improvements despite consistent training. This can be frustrating, but there are several strategies to overcome them:

  1. Vary your workout routine. Changing your exercises, rep ranges, or training intensity can shock your muscles into growth.
  2. Focus on progressive overload. Gradually increase the weight or resistance you use in your workouts to help stimulate muscle growth.
  3. Ensure adequate recovery. Sometimes, a plateau can be a sign of overtraining. Make sure you’re allowing enough time for recovery and getting sufficient sleep.

How to prevent and deal with injuries

Injuries can derail your fitness goals and set you back in your progress. To prevent injuries:

  1. Warm up properly. Warm-up 5-10 minutes before intense exercise to prepare your muscles and joints.
  2. Use the correct form. Always prioritize proper technique over lifting heavier weights to avoid strain.
  3. Listen to your body. Pay attention to signs of fatigue or discomfort, which could indicate you need to rest or adjust your technique.

How to balance muscle building with fat loss

Achieving a lean, muscular physique requires balancing building muscle and losing fat. Here are tips to maintain this balance:

  1. Incorporate strength and cardio training. While focusing on muscle building, don’t neglect cardiovascular exercises, which help burn fat and improve heart health.
  2. Adjust your diet strategically. Create a slight calorie deficit that supports fat loss without compromising muscle gain. High-quality proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates should be the pillars of your diet.
  3. Track progress beyond the scale. Use measurements, body fat percentage, and how your clothes fit to gauge progress, as muscle gain may offset fat loss on the scale.

Closing thoughts

Understanding the significance of muscle mass and how to increase it effectively plays a crucial role in enhancing your overall health and fitness. 

Through this guide, you’ve gained insights into the benefits of muscle mass, optimal percentages, and practical tips for building and maintaining it. You’ve also learned the importance of diet, supplements, and navigating common challenges. 

The journey to improving muscle mass involves dedication, proper nutrition, strategic exercise, and patience. 

As you apply these principles, remember that every small step contributes to your goals, fostering a stronger, healthier you. Let this knowledge empower your decisions and inspire your actions toward a more robust and vibrant lifestyle.

FAQs

How to gain muscle mass fast?

To gain muscle mass quickly, focus on resistance and strength training exercises targeting major muscle groups and consuming a protein-rich diet to support muscle repair and growth. Ensure adequate rest and recovery to maximize gains.

What is a good muscle mass weight for a woman?

A good muscle mass weight for a woman varies by individual but generally falls between 30% and 35% of her total body weight. This range supports optimal health, strength, and fitness levels, though specific goals and body types may influence this percentage.

What workouts increase muscle mass?

Workouts that increase muscle mass typically include resistance and strength training exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups. Incorporating progressive overload, where the intensity gradually increases, is key to stimulating muscle growth.

Is muscle strength better than muscle mass?

Muscle strength and muscle mass serve different purposes: strength enhances your ability to exert force, while mass increases your physical size and endurance. One may be prioritized over the other depending on your fitness goals, but both are important for overall health and performance.

Photograph: s kawee/Envato

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34818839/
[2] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/strength-training-builds-more-than-muscles
[3] https://www.livestrong.com/article/246036-how-much-more-muscle-mass-does-a-male-have-than-a-female/
[4] https://examine.com/supplements/hmb/
[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-does-beta-alanine-do

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