Did you know that you have over 600 muscles in your body?
Our muscles are responsible for every single move we make, each and every day – so I want to focus on some of the ways you can take care of them, hold onto them, and not be afraid to grow them.
Muscles are the reason we can move our bodies at all. They help us bend over, stand up, lift things, pump blood through the body, and even help us breathe.
Muscles are also what gives the body shape, curves and form. They’re what make a body look “toned” and “tight.” They take up less space than body fat (more on that shortly), they serve as endocrine receptors, and they help support your metabolism.
Types of Muscle
Muscles get their ‘stretchiness’ from the fact they are made up of thousands, even tens of thousands of fibers. Whether you are running, walking or talking, almost all human movement occurs when these muscle fibers contract.
The command center of any muscle is a nerve which means that contractions begin when a neural message is sent to the muscle. When that message stops, the muscle relaxes.
There are 3 types of muscle – Skeletal, Cardiac and Smooth:
When we talk about muscles, most of us are thinking about skeletal muscle. These are the muscles that give our limbs movement and our bodies their shape.
Skeletal muscles are those muscles we consciously control; they do what we want, when we want them to.
Otherwise known as the heart muscle, cardiac muscle pumps blood to your heart. Unlike skeletal muscles, the cardiac muscle isn’t under our conscious control; thankfully it functions whether we think about it or not.
Smooth muscle controls the movements of our blood vessels and internal organs. Like cardiac muscle, its functioning does not require our conscious control.
What Happens When We Exercise?
While we are born with a set number of muscle fibers (in other words, we can’t grow new ones), we can build up the ones we have. So when we do exercise like resistance training (training that uses weighted objects or gravity and your body to create resistance) or HIIT (high intensity interval training), here’s what happens:
Muscles grow or change by experiencing stress. When the muscle is challenged, either from lifting weights or lifting your own bodyweight against gravity, it’s forced beyond its comfort zone.
Over time, muscle will adapt to the stress, which is why we want to mix up our workouts styles regularly to keep them guessing!
2. Tear Down
This exercise effort creates the tension in your muscle that creates micro-tears in the muscle fibers. This is not unhealthy or harmful (unless you are training in a situation where your body is already stressed out, sick, or trying to repair an injury).
Exercise creates a certain amount of stress on our system during this process – one of the reasons it’s SO IMPORTANT to sleep well and eat properly while you’re training to support your body as it goes through this natural process. This is also why I stress the importance of not training while you’re sick or injured.
Finally, your body uses a cellular process to repair the micro-tears in the muscle fibers, and during this process, the muscle fibers fuse together to form new muscle protein strands and increase the thickness of the muscle fibers.
- Remember: this cellular process that creates stronger muscle fibers happens when your body is at rest. So to rock a fit physique, your rest days are just as important as your workouts.
Your muscles will grow stronger and be able to work longer the more consistent you are, and as you consistently challenge yourself with new ways to train. Plateaus and “ruts” can happen when we don’t give ourselves new challenges.
I created Rock Your Life so you could challenge yourself with something new every month – there are dozens of 30-day challenges in there that will give you variety, resistance, HIIT and so much more to keep your body guessing and keep you getting stronger!
And don’t dismiss the importance of stretching….
Stretching improves flexibility, helps prevent muscle cramps and injuries, ensures you reach a full range of motion, promotes better balance, and guarantees you get the most out of your workout. I like adding in dedicated yoga days to my weekly workout plans, because this flexibility really allows me full range of motion and more body awareness in my other types of workouts.
What’s The Relationship Between Muscle and Fat?
To really appreciate why muscles are so important to your overall body shape and “tone,” we need to take a look at body composition and how muscle relates to fat.
While a pound of muscle and a pound of fat obviously both weight 1 pound, they look very different visually.
Muscle is denser than fat, so it takes up much less volume than the same amount (in weight) of fat: a pound of fat takes up 4 times the space of muscle tissue.
That’s why when your consistent exercise and eating program are helping you lose fat and add muscle, you look and feel smaller (or tighter) – even if the number on the scale doesn’t move, and also why I recommend ditching your scale as your measure of progress.
The difference in fat and muscle volume is ALSO why gaining muscle doesn’t bulk you up, a concern of a lot of women I hear from.
In fact, the opposite will happen. As you lose body fat and add lean muscle, that muscle leaves you looking smaller and firmer, because muscle takes up less space than the fat you’re losing.
If you see Susan in the picture above (who originally shared this image during one of my 30-day challenges), you can see how even though she weighed more in pounds, she was physically smaller in size.
Building muscle is healthy for your long-term health.
Excess body fat has been linked to a lot of different chronic diseases: high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, kidney disease and more.
And muscle is really supportive to us as we go through time. It supports our joints, gives us the strength to stay active, and helps support metabolic processes.
Check out this podcast episode with Dr Gabrielle Lyon, “Muscle is Key to Longevity” for some juicy tidbits about how optimizing muscle helps improve your health, how exercise boosts your immune system, how protein stimulates muscle growth, and so much more!
Fat is not the enemy. We don’t want to aim for too little or NO body fat; having too little fat can cause your menstrual cycle to become irregular or stop, and affect your ability to think, function and move. If your goal is a fit physique, the best way to do that is to add some muscle to your frame.
And I’d like to put a fitness myth to rest right here. One of the comments I hear a lot is “If I build up all that muscle, it will all turn to fat when I stop exercising.”
This, my friend, is physically impossible.
If you stop exercising, you will lose muscle mass, yes. (But here’s a fun fact: it takes twice as long to lose a muscle than it takes to build it, so muscle you build in 2 months will take 4 months to deteriorate.)
But your muscle isn’t literally turning into fat. Muscle and fat cells are two totally different things, and one can’t become the other.
What will happen is your body’s composition will change.
Muscle burns more calories than fat, so it speeds up your metabolism.
With every pound of muscle you build, you will burn 35-50 more calories a day. So, if you gain 4.5 pounds of muscle, you will burn 150 additional calories per day, or 4500 additional calories per month, for a loss of around 15 pounds a year! Now think of the inverse of that.
If you stop exercising, a smaller muscle mass coupled with a more sedentary lifestyle means you will burn less calories every day even though you probably would still consume the same amount of food. So it’s not surprising if your body fat increases as a result, and as we’ve learned by now, fat takes up more space than muscle.
Let’s talk for a minute about how to FEED your muscles, because we grow muscles in two ways:
- by completing our workout/rest cycle consistently, and
- by giving our muscles the right food.
It really helps to know which nutrients your body needs – especially if you’re putting in the time to exercise and train.
I used to train 6 times a week, but until I started eating the right food, I didn’t see the progress and results in my physique that I’ve now been able to maintain for almost a decade (with LESS workouts).
And I hear this again and again from my readers, students, and clients.
So here are a few tips to give your muscles the right fuel:
1. Eat Protein
This is so important! Protein helps your body repair and rebuild muscles; the amino acids in proteins are literally the building blocks of muscle.
The right amount for you will depend on your activity level and your goals. While the studies vary, it’s reasonably safe to say as someone ACTIVE that you should eat 0.7-1 grams per pound of body weight depending on your activity levels.
Some of the protein staples I keep in my kitchen include whole eggs, grass-fed or farm-raised meats and poultry, and wild-caught fish. And let’s not forget that proteins come in a variety of plant-based food including edamame, fermented or soaked beans, as well as greens.
And if you are wondering about protein powder, you might want to check out this article where I talk about some of my favorites, or shop my line of protein powders and whole food based supplement.
2. Consume Carbohydrates
Your body takes the carbohydrates you consume (from any type of carb) and can store a finite amount in your liver, a finite amount in your muscle tissue (the more muscle you have, the more it can store), uses some for immediate energy needs, and packages up any extra and stores it as fat.
While your body does the same things with any carb you consume, if you prioritize whole food based carbs which are more dense in fiber (helps you feel full) and other micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) it’s easier to avoid overeating and fat storage. Sugary foods are easier to overeat, and usually don’t provide the same gut-healthy fiber or micronutrients.
You do need carbs – when you work out, your body taps into your muscles’ energy stores. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your body won’t have enough energy reserves to tap into and can break down your hard-earned muscle instead.
Prioritize a nice variety of healthy, whole food options. Some great examples are sweet potatoes, quinoa, sprouted oats or a large assortment of vegetables. Fruit is great too, but it’s a quicker-digesting carb and won’t have the same long-lasting effect that a bowl of overnight oatmeal will. Mix up your carbohydrate sources, and prioritize those ones from whole foods to support your muscles and energy.
3. Eat Healthy Fats
Contrary to popular belief, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, it does the opposite, it helps you stay lean and trim. Fat is satisfying – and including it in your meals can help prevent overeating.
Fat also plays an important role in hormone production which helps encourage muscle growth.
Choose the fats you eat wisely, just like we talked about with carbs. Make sure you are eating healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, nut butters, flax, seeds, and avocados.
Do your best to steer clear of processed fats like trans fats that you find in a lot of processed snack foods, ice cream, cake, and pizza.
The bottom line? Grow the muscles.
They are the power behind all our daily movement – big and small – and the secret behind a strong, fit body.
Work those muscles, eat whole, healthy foods, stay consistent, and if I know you, you’ll be rocking an even stronger version of yourself than you already are!
Ready to ROCK a muscle-sculpting, fat-blasting WORKOUT PLAN? Get HOME WORKOUT DOMINATION – my newest program for a toned, fit physique!
- “Muscles – Skeletal, smooth and cardiac.” BBC Science. September 24, 2014. Web. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/factfiles/skeletalsmoothandcardiac/orbicularis_oris_animation.shtml
- Wedro, Benjamin et al. “How Muscles Work and How They Respond to Resistance Exercise.” MedicineNet.com. Web. http://www.medicinenet.com/how_muscles_work_and_respond_to_resistance_exercise/views.htm
- Stenson, Jacqueline. “Stretching may offer extended benefits.” NBC News. October 30, 2007. Web. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21489011/ns/health-fitness/t/stretching-may-offer-extended-benefits/#.WC3BI6IrJTY
- Brody, Jane E. “Weight Index Doesn’t Tell the Whole Truth.” The New York Times. August 20, 2010. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/health/31brod.html?_r=0
“Health Risks of Being Overweight.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Web. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/health_risks_being_overweight/Pages/health-risks-being-overweight.aspx
- Zuger, Abigail. “Too Little Fat Can Be as Bad as Too Much.” The New York Times. July 6, 2004. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/06/health/too-little-fat-can-be-as-bad-as-too-much.html
- Weil, Andrew. “How Much Body Fat Do We Need?” Dr.Weil.com. April 19, 2002. Web. http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/health-centers/women/how-much-body-fat-do-we-need/
- Leyva, John. “How Do Muscles Grow? The Science of Muscle Growth.” BuiltLean. September 17, 2013/November 4, 2016. Web. http://www.builtlean.com/2013/09/17/muscles-grow/
- O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Muscle Turns to Fat When You Stop Working Out.” The New York Times. July 26, 2005. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/26/health/nutrition/the-claim-muscle-turns-to-fat-when-you-stop-working-out.html?_r=0
- “Carbohydrates.” Harvard School of Public Health. Web. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/
- Denny, Sharon. “Choose Healthy Fats.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. March 17, 2016. Web. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/choose-healthy-fats
- “Healthy Muscles Matter.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. October 2015. Web. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/kids/healthy_muscles.asp