What is Muscle Mass and How to Grow It

What is Muscle Mass and How to Grow It

Muscle is a soft tissue that produces force and motion. Muscle mass refers to the amount of muscle in your body, which can greatly impact your general health.

In this article, you’ll learn how to measure and grow your muscle mass. We’ll look at:

  • - What is muscle mass
  • - What is lean body mass
  • - How do you measure muscle mass

What is muscle mass and its impact on your health?

Muscles play an integral role in every function of the body. They allow a person to move, chew, speak, and control vital functions like digestion, breathing, and heartbeat. Other obvious, unrelated functions, like vision and temperature regulation, also rely on the muscular system. In fact, the human muscular system is composed of over 600 muscles. Thousands of small fibers make up each one.

What is Muscle Mass?

Muscle mass is the amount of cardiac, smooth, and skeletal muscles in your body - and it’s absolutely vital to your overall health. That’s why it’s important to have enough muscle mass percentage, with respect to the other components in your body.

Increased muscle mass means:

  • - Improved energy levels
  • - A stronger immune system
  • - Less body fat,
  • - Reduced stress.

A healthy, lean body mass - which includes bone mass and fat mass - ensures all of your body’s vital functions are performed at optimum levels.

Muscles are divided into types, and each serves a specific purpose. Your heart beats because of the cardiac muscles, you can digest food because of the smooth muscles, and you can walk/move because of the skeletal muscles.

  1. Cardiac muscles are only found in the heart and are completely involuntary. This means that we do not consciously control when and how these muscles move. They line the walls in the heart and work together to pump blood throughout your body.
  2. Skeletal muscle mass predominantly contributes to the total muscle mass in your body. Also, known as voluntary muscles, you have total and direct control over them, regarding their shape and how they grow. They are attached to the skeletal system and contract to facilitate movement.
  3. Smooth muscles are also involuntary and line organs like bronchi of the lungs, the stomach, the oesophagus, and the walls of the blood vessels. Smooth muscles rhythmically contract to control organ functions like expanding the lungs when breathing or moving food through the oesophagus.

So, muscle mass is the total body composition of these muscles, including the fat mass and bone mass.

Lean Body Mass Vs. Muscle Mass

Lean body mass and muscle mass are considered to be synonymous with each other. However, they differ greatly in terms of composition.

What is Lean body mass?

Lean body mass incorporates the weight of all the following elements that make up your body:

Simply put, it is the difference between your total body weight and body fat weight. Or lean body mass is the weight of everything except body fat.

Muscle mass, on the other hand, is the weight of your muscles.

Because your internal organs and muscles have a higher metabolic rate than the equivalent weight of fat, having a good lean muscle percentage boosts your metabolism, making it easier to maintain a healthy and desired body weight. It has also been found that having a high proportion of lean muscle mass reduces inflammation and swelling as the small fat cells in lean people promote healthy function, whereas enlarged fat cells in obese or overweight individuals promote chronic disease and inflammation.

How do you Measure Muscle Mass?

Muscle mass calculators, BMI, formula, MRIs, and special scales - these are some of the prominent methods that you can use to measure your muscle mass percentage.

Muscle Mass Percentage and BMI

Your BMI or body mass index is the measure of your weight. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight by your height. In simple terms, the body mass index is the measure of weight adjusted for height. BMI is often considered a measure of body fatness. However, it is rather a surrogate measure of body fat as it calculates excess weight instead of excess fat.

As compared to other measurement techniques, BMI is inexpensive, simple, and a non-invasive method to measure body fat. Since it relies solely on weight and height, all you need is the right BMI calculator to measure your muscle mass with reasonable accuracy.

Also, there are studies that show body mass index levels correlate with body fat as well as future health risks. If you have a high BMI, it predicts future morbidity and eventually death. Thus, BMI is a feasible method that can be used to screen for obesity and its potential health risks.

The following is a table that interprets different BMI levels for adults:

Body Mass Index Weight Status
30.0 and Above Obese
25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
18.5 to 24.9 Normal
Below 18.5 Underweight

How to measure muscle mass?

The following are some of the proven methods of calculating muscle mass and keep track of your progress:

NOTE: in some instances, accuracy is questionable.

  1. Formula: There is a formula developed by the US military that estimates the body fat percentage. The formula measures the circumference of different body parts in order to measure the Circumference Value (CV) of the body. Once the CV is determined, it is noted down along with your height on a chart with body fat percentage estimates. This number can be used to calculate muscle percentage. In males, neck and abdominal circumferences are measured. The CV is then determined by abdominal circumference minus neck circumference. In females, neck, hip, and waist circumferences are measured. The CV is then determined by adding hip circumference and waist circumference and subtracting the total from neck circumference.
  2. Scale: Another way to measure your muscle mass percentage is to use a body fat scale. Body fat scales are designed in a way that they use bioelectrical impedance technology for measuring body fat. To get your lean body mass percentage, subtract your body fat value from 100. Properly read the instructions before using a body fat scale as there are several variables that can affect the results.
  3. MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI is considered to be the most accurate way to measure muscle mass percentage. MRI can give you accurate readings regarding muscle mass distribution. It uses a magnetic field to rearrange your body’s hydrogen atoms. As a result, energy is released, which the machine uses to evaluate your muscle mass percentage. While it is accurate and reliable, taking MRI is expensive and not practical for everyday use.

What is a good muscle mass percentage?

The muscle mass percentage depends on numerous factors, such as gender, body size, and fitness. Thus, it can be said that different people have different body mass percentages, and there is no distinctive guideline that tells what a good muscle mass person should be. However, it indicates the overall body composition, and it should be kept in check.

The American College of Sports Medicine outlines healthy body fat percentage to be:


Age Very Lean Excellent Good Fair Poor Very Poor
20–29 4.2–6.4 7.9–10.5 11.5–14.8 15.8–18.6 19.8–23.3 25.1– 33.7
30–39 12.5–14.9 12.5–14.9 15.9–18.4 19.2–21.6 22.4–25.1 26.4–34.4
40–49 9.5–13.0 15.0–17.5 18.5–20.8 21.4–23.5 24.2–26.6 27.7–35.2
50–59 11.1–14.9 17.0–19.4 20.2–22.3 23.0–24.9 25.6–28.1 29.2–36.4
60 –69 12.0–16.1 18.1–20.2 21.0–23.0 23.6–25.6 26.4–28.8 29.8– 37.2
70-79 13.6–15.5 17.5– 20.2 21.1–22.9 23.6–25.2 25.7–28.0 29.3–37.3


Age Very Lean Excellent Good Fair Poor Very Poor
20–29 11.4–14.1 15.2–16.1 16.8–20.0 20.7–23.5 24.4–28.6 30.9–38.4
30–39 11.0–13.8 15.5–16.5 17.5–21.0 22.0–24.8 25.8–29.6 31.4–39.0
40–49 11.7–15.2 16.8–18.2 19.5–23.6 24.6–27.4 28.3–31.9 33.4–39.0
50–59 13.8–16.9 19.1–20.8 22.3–26.6 27.4–30.0 30.7–33.8 34.9–39.8
60 –69 13.8–17.7 20.1–22.0 23.2–27.5 28.3–30.8 31.5–34.4 35.4–40.3
70-79 13.7–16.4 18.8–21.2 22.6–26.3 27.1–30.0 30.9–33.6 35.0–40.0

The Impact of Muscles on Health

Muscles are vital to your overall health. They are responsible for the proper functioning of the organs and facilitating body movements.

What are the risks of low muscle mass?

Low muscle mass can speed up age-related health issues while hindering your physical capabilities to a certain extent. Also, there is an increased risk of disability and sustaining injuries. With that said, the following are the risks associated with low muscle mass:

  • Diabetes
  • Trouble with performing daily activities
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor chronic disease syndrome
  • Complications after surgery
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Hospital readmission
  • Vulnerability to diseases and infections
  • Reduced lifespan

Sarcopenia or age-related muscle loss

As you age, your muscle health starts to degrade, and you may experience loss of muscle mass and function. This condition is known as age-related muscle loss or sarcopenia. By the time you reach 30, you can lose as much as 3%-5% of your muscle mass. Muscle loss matters because it compromises your mobility and strength. The process can speed up by the time you cross 60. Sarcopenia can be the result of:

  • Not getting enough protein or calories in a day to sustain muscle mass
  • A decrease in the ability to turn protein into the energy
  • Lower concentration of hormones
  • Reduction in nerve cells that are responsible for sending signals to the muscles

Health problems caused by age-related muscle loss:

  1. Loss of stamina
  2. Weakness
  3. Improper functioning of certain organs
  4. Sudden and drastic weight loss

How to Gain Muscle Mass?

Loss of muscle with age is a natural phenomenon. However, you can ensure that your muscle mass percentage is apt according to your age with exercise and diet. Regular workout and good nutrition can help you preserve muscle mass and trigger new muscle growth.


Weight training is considered the best workout for gaining lean muscle mass. Ideal workouts for building muscle include:

  • Pilates
  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  • Exercising using weight machines
  • Lifting free weights that force your muscles to work against resistance
  • Resistance band exercises
  • Bodyweight workouts like pull-ups and push-ups

Having a good diet

Exercise is secondary when it comes to building muscle. Diet plays an important role because it doesn’t matter how much exercise you do, if your diet isn’t proper and regular, you will not see any results. Your protein intake should be higher when you are gaining muscle. In fact, up to 35% of your daily recommended calories should come from protein.

  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Oily fish
  • Poultry
  • Beef
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Green veggies
  • Vitamins and minerals

Bottom Line

Your muscle health determines how your body is going to tolerate any inconvenience. In order to maintain a healthy muscle mass, you need to engage in strength training followed by a strict protein-rich diet with enough carbohydrates. Always keep your health in check by visiting your doctor. Most importantly, calculate your muscle mass percentage every once a while to keep track of your lean body mass.

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