Muscle vs Lean, what does it mean?
Muscle matters. Build strength now for a better future
Wherever you are in your health journey, muscle matters now. Muscle mass provides the foundation for strength, vitality, endurance, posture, balance, and flexibility. But what type of exercise is best? The benefits of cardiovascular exercise on whole body systems are irrefutable. The benefits of strength training exercises are well documented, including some surprise benefits like improvements in quality of sleep, increases in lifespan, and increased immunity. Measuring your lean tissue over time is critically important to a healthier you. Let’s explore some foundational concepts surrounding lean tissue.
Muscle vs. Lean, what does it mean?
Lean and muscle are sometimes used interchangeably, though they are not the same! Lean tissue refers to muscle mass, organs, blood, tendons and ligaments, bone marrow, free water, and undigested food. Lean tissue is an umbrella term for what the DEXA scanner determines is not fat or bone tissue. Read Is it Soft Lean Tissue or Fat-Free Mass? for more information.
“Weight loss” vs Recomposition
Many fad weight loss plans have little regard for preserving muscle mass. They focus on foods light in calories and shredding pounds, without much regard to what those pounds actually consist of. The problem there is profound. Without attention paid to determining what type of tissue is lost, muscle can diminish along with the fat.
Top Tip! Shift your health goal from losing “weight” or “pounds” to “recomposition”. That means losing fat while maintaining or gaining lean tissue.
Let’s explore an example. If your health goal was to “lose weight”, you may choose to eat in a calorie deficit. However, without adequate protein to preserve your muscle mass, your body may begin to lose both fat and lean tissue. In a nutritional protein deficit, your body fat percentage can stay the same or can even rise as you lose weight. This is what’s referred to colloquially as “skinny fat”. This loss of lean tissue has negative and far-reaching consequences on your energy levels and your metabolism: making it even harder to reach your goals. Unbalanced diets can also be quite restrictive. They can leave you feeling irritable or foggy and are generally harder to stick to long term. The solution is balanced macronutrient diets that keep you full and fueled all day long.
There is a food tactic that addresses the goal of “recomposition”. Eating food dense in nutrients, especially protein, will help protect the muscle on your frame and keep you fueled all day long.
How to preserve muscle
The short answer? Eat a lot of protein, and exercise. Protein is one of three macronutrients or “macros”. Macronutrients refer to the three main categories of food: Protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These are the mainstays of nutritional labels; knowing how to keep them in balance is a fantastic skill to learn. Keeping your nutritional protein intake high enough helps prevent lean tissue loss in a calorie deficit. High levels of protein help preserve muscle mass by adequately fueling your body with muscle-building nutrients. This helps to stave off unwanted lean losses from unbalanced macronutrient diets, or rapid weight loss.
Top Tip! Eat as many grams of protein as you have lean tissue pounds! Not sure what your lean tissue weight is? Get a DEXA scan today and find out!
The other crucial component is exercise. Progressive resistance training is an effective way to stave off Sarcopenia: age-related muscle decline. Progressive overload means that as you get stronger, you will benefit from adding reps or weights to increase the quality of your muscle. It’s not only about strength! Muscles are paramount for all types of movement, preventing falls, touching your toes, putting your carry-on in the overhead bins. Weight lifting is highly customizable; you can begin a lifting regime at your own pace.
How to build muscle
Listen up, cardio lovers! If you have never had a focus on muscle building previously, it can be daunting to consider. Maybe you’ve tried before and felt lost, intimidated, or didn’t see progress. Perhaps you have concerns about getting too bulky. Strength training doesn’t have to be daunting or leave you wobbly for days. Some is better than none, and more is better than some. Showing up for yourself with consistency is key. Add weight or resistance as your confidence grows. Rely on community resources like trainers, coaches, and knowledgeable friends to ease you into strength workouts. Check out this great resource for a beginner's guide to strength training.
Top Tip! 1-2 days of lifting a week is a good start, and 3-4 is a great stretch goal.
You can measure your lean mass gains and losses over time by getting regular DEXA scans. DEXA scans can help you pinpoint regional changes in your lean as you work towards your goals. Your data will accrue and compare side by side on our reports, so you can stay on track to being your best self.
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