Why Is Muscle So Important?
Before we jump to the conclusion that muscle equates to being a meathead, we need to understand that muscle is what keeps us alive. Literally!
From birth until death, we are using our muscles to maintain many regulatory mechanisms and it keeps us mobile and able to breathe.
Many people don’t understand that muscles are an integral tissue that allows us to move, breathe, have vision, maintains our posture, and keeps us upright.
The cells of muscle are quite extravagant in what they do to maintain a proper balance and ward off chronic diseases.
Skeletal muscle cells can increase or decrease the energy function from the mitochondria (energy part of the cell) of the cell based on protein consumption. They do this to maintain net equality to ensure life!
Unfortunately, there are many abnormal shifts in the muscle where metabolic issues may arise. Cancers, Huntington’s disease, kidney disease, and lung diseases have all been tied to metabolic muscle issues.
What Can I Do To Preserve Longevity?
In life, there is always balance. As humans, we tend to swing the pendulum from one extreme to the other and don’t understand the vital concept of balance.
If something is good, we want it to be really good so we think more is better. Conversely, if something is bad, we avoid it like the plague. Balance is crucial to life and our muscle balance is no exception.
Skeletal muscle mass is maintained by a BALANCE of protein breakdown and consumption as well as cellular turnover. We know something called sarcopenia (muscle wasting) is 100% related to decreased protein consumption with increased protein degradation (break down).
Keeping this in mind, we know that skeletal muscle is a highly metabolic organ. It is very expensive for the body to maintain and improve the metabolic pathways to do so. For example, let’s take obesity into account and understand what happens when we have excess fat cells in our bodies.
When people are obese, fat cells tend to accumulate around muscle tissue. While it’s there, it secrets certain compounds that are detrimental to metabolic activity. That means we start to have muscle wasting and an inability to have regeneration for the fibers of our muscle.
People with diabetes tend to have issues with muscle functionality as well. Inflammation and insulin resistance are traits of obesity that bring system-wide issues, all stemming from the muscle!
As we age, tissue regeneration tends to decline. Sex hormones can be a big contributor to this as the hormones responsible for anabolic activity decline roughly 1% each year starting at 25 years of age.
We have to understand that many, MANY metabolic conditions are prevalent BECAUSE of the food choices we make. Locally and globally, we have a carb-centric problem.
That means we put an emphasis on carbohydrates and lack the dietary protein consumption needed to aid in the balance of our muscle tissues.
Remember, our body is very good at maintaining normalcy because it wants to survive. It will do whatever it can, including altering metabolic balances to maintain life, until finally, it starts to break down. Enter chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, heart disease, dementia, etc.
Muscle mass is important because having less of it is associated with reduced muscle strength, bone density, physical performance limitations, and premature death.
It’s important to know that getting older and aging is normal, but feeling old and in pain is NOT a normal aging process. The ultimate goal is to minimize the aging process by reducing chronic low-grade inflammation, which will ultimately improve quality of life.
Let’s differentiate between low-grade inflammation and acute inflammation. Acute inflammation occurs when you have a cut and your immune system responds by sending cells to help fight bacteria and infection. You will see the area get red and tender due to the capillary permeability so those cells can get to the damaged part and fix it.
Low-grade inflammation is a constant inflammatory response where our body has its foot on the gas and brake at the same time. Eventually, something will give and we will suffer the consequences.
How Do I Find Balance?
There are vital macronutrients, protein, fats, and carbs that get broken down into different things in our bodies.
Protein gets broken down into amino acids, fats get broken down to triglycerides, and carbs are broken down into glucose.
A very common question that comes up is if excess protein converts to fat? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that the body doesn’t do it often because it is highly inefficient and our body doesn’t like to do things harder, rather smarter.
Another question that arises pertains to the pendulum that people swing from with one extreme to the other.
Are carbs bad?
Absolutely not. Carbs are great for us! It’s the prepacked, highly refined carbs that are terrible for us. That is where we run into issues with diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Carbs are good in the form of rice, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. I encourage carbs to be consumed around any form of physical activity.
The reason behind that is glucose can be stored in muscle fibers and the liver. Excess storage of glucose can also contribute to fructose which leads to fatty liver disease, which is bad.
For us to be active and move how we want, we rely on that glucose storage in our muscle fibers as it is highly efficient and allows proper growth due to fluid that gets pushed in at the cellular level.
Let’s not confuse this concept. Less is more, much like anything in life. Excess carbohydrate consumption will lead to excess storage in the muscle and liver. Both of which are BAD. Our bodies can't process the excess and this is what leads to diabetes and obesity.
Conversely, if you are active and have a lot of lean muscle mass, you can consume more glucose because that generally will yield more growth.
This is why muscle is the best metabolic currency. It is quite expensive to maintain and it is very forgiving, unlike excess triglycerides (bad fats) and glucose consumption (bad carbs).
Clear Up The Air
Once again, people fall into one category or the other. There are multiple ways to skin a cat when it comes to fat loss and muscle gain.
Fundamentally, diet needs to be on par. Nutritionally dense carbohydrates like fruits, veggies, rice, and potatoes pack a punch. Refined carbs do us no good except spiking our blood sugar and converting more to fructose which leads to liver damage and elevated triglyceride levels.
Eat more protein. For guys, the goal is to eat their body weight in protein every single day. For women, try to eat half their body weight in protein every day because mechanistically, women tend to have less lean body mass than guys do. This is a very GENERAL statement but tends to get you started on the correct path.
Muscle is metabolically forgiving and expensive to maintain. Build more muscle and that leads to more fat loss. We went through the process as to how that happens at the molecular level and how it ultimately affects our metabolism by energy balance.
Eat real food. Eat more protein. Stay active. Thrive.
Be strong. Be brave.