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Why you Should Track Your Skeletal Muscle Mass

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Over the last 3 weeks we discussed the importance of knowing your body fat, and how to use that information to reach your health and fitness goals. This week we will discuss what skeletal muscle mass is, why it’s important, and how to maintain it.

What is skeletal muscle?
The majority of the muscles in your body are skeletal muscles. They make up about 30 to 40% of your total body mass. Tendons attach skeletal muscle tissue to bones throughout your body. Your shoulder muscles, hamstring muscles and abdominal muscles are all examples of skeletal muscles.

What’s the difference between skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscle?
There are three types of muscles in your body:

Skeletal muscle: voluntary muscles, meaning you control how and when they move and work. Nerves in your somatic nervous system send signals to make them function.
Cardiac muscle: Cardiac muscles are only in your heart. They help your heart pump blood throughout your body. They’re involuntary muscles that your autonomic nervous system controls.
Smooth muscle: Smooth muscle makes up your organs, blood vessels, digestive tract, skin and other areas. Smooth muscles are involuntary, too. So, your autonomic nervous system controls them as well. 

What is the purpose of the skeletal muscles?

The skeletal muscles are a vital part of your musculoskeletal system. They serve a variety of functions, including:

– Chewing and swallowing, which are the first parts of digestion.
– Expanding and contracting your chest cavity so you can inhale and exhale at will.
– Maintaining body posture.
– Moving the bones in different parts of your body.
– Protecting joints and holding them in place.

So why are the muscles important for your health? As well as controlling movement, muscles store glucose (carbohydrates) and use this as fuel every time you need to move. Muscle mass essentially acts as a reserve that you top up by eating carbohydrates, and deplete when you exercise. A healthy muscle to fat ratio creates a virtuous circle; with a healthy level of skeletal muscle, you are capable of effective movement and exercise; this maintains the muscle and inhibits excess fat storage, which in turn means you are capable of movement and exercise and maintain a healthy level of skeletal muscle. Increasing rather than just maintaining your skeletal muscle, and improving the quality of your muscle, will enable you to not just maintain movement and exercise, but to develop and improve it.

To improve your skeletal muscle volume and quality you should be doing these 6  things:

1. Vary your workout – Building muscle means resistance or weight training, not just cardio.
2. Follow a healthy diet – Make sure you get enough protein like soya, meat, fish, diary, nuts, etc. to repair the micro-tears in the muscle which occur with resistance exercise.
3. Work your biggest muscles – If you’re a beginner, any workout is likely to increase protein storage which enables your muscles to grow. But if you’ve been doing resistance exercise for a while, you’ll build the most muscle if you focus on the large muscle groups, like the chest, back, and legs. And always remember to change your workout routine every 6-8 weeks.
4. Plan your rest days – Your muscles grow when you’re resting, not when you’re working out; a challenging weight workout increases protein storage for up to 48 hours, immediately after your exercise session.
5. Eat carbohydrates after your workout – Research shows that you’ll rebuild muscle faster on your rest days if you feed your body carbohydrates.
6. Have a glass of milk before bed – Eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes before you go to bed. The calories are more likely to stick with you during sleep and reduce protein breakdown in your muscles.

Knowing both your body fat percentage and skeletal muscle mass paints a much clearer picture than using a standard at home scale. Finally, monitor your muscle volume, muscle quality and basal metabolic rate to make sure you are consuming the right level of calories to fuel your muscle function, and track your progress over time so you can see how well you are doing.

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