Functional muscle mass is really a fancy way of saying the muscles you will use to perform the activities of daily living. To build and maintain that muscle, I look at 4 main points:
1. Marie Kondo
2. Nourish the body
3. Protein supply
4. Fuel for Marie Kondo
1. Marie Kondo also known as sparking joy through Weight bearing exercise! We need that muscle moving! The body is in a constant state of homeostasis, assessing what is urgent and required versus what we can get rid of. Or as I like to call it these days, your body is Marie Kondo, assessing whether that need or function will bring us joy (by ensuring survival) or not. If not, it prioritises something else. This is how we develop osteoporosis as our skeleton provides a bank of calcium used for the short-term priority of cell communication, long term without replacement, that ain't so good for the old bones! But when we are talking muscle, I need you to think, Marie Kondo, do I use it, will it bring me joy to maintain it or grow it and if we are not providing regular stimulation to that muscle tissue well, well thank it as it says goodbye.
2. Regular eating - large periods without food mean the body’s tissues become the source of energy, great you might say, I will lose fat, unfortunately there is little control you have over the body’s decision on what the body breaks down, muscle or fat. To build muscle, we need to eat regularly throughout the day to ensure a regular delivery of energy to the brain and organs and the muscles for your activities of daily living. Have too large a gap and we will dip into our energy reserve which is your body. This regular eating should always be in consideration of hunger, I don’t need you to eat for the sake of eating but if you can eat in that 4-5 zone and not overeat you should hit that sweet spot. For more on that check out hunger scale.
3. Protein, muscle tissue requires amino acid to repair itself. When I analyse an athlete that’s doing heavy amounts of training, say one of my military applicants, I use a range of 1.5-2.0g per kg of bodyweight. If we can spread this evenly across your 5 meals (breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner) then I know we are in a decent spot for functional muscle mass gain. Around that 20-30g of protein per meal achieves this for most people. To give you a bit of a guide a serve of chicken breast is usually around 100g and gives you 20-25g of protein while a yoghurt may be anywhere between 10-16g dependent on which one of the 4000 yoghurts there are out there that you choose.
4. Carbs - this is fuel for your performance, if you can fuel that session with the right amount of carbohydrate then we can train harder, create more muscle stimulus and therefore increase muscle mass. Personally I can’t train on an empty stomach if I need to train in say 40 minutes it might be an apple or a slice of bread with honey. A light snack but enough to get you that release of glucose at the right time for a belter of a session. If you’re not a pre-workout eater, that’s ok to, no point in waking yourself at 4am for something so you can train at 5am. Just go with not eating then but if you can make sure you have some carbohydrates in your dinner the night before Marie Kondo would thank you for sparking joy in your body :).
Finally, this is a bit of a personal spin on my professional practice but let strength be your guide. When looking at an individual level, if we have sorted out their main sources of pain, they are eating regularly and hitting their protein number then I can almost guarantee they will be lifting heavier and gaining muscle. You can get bodpod measurements or DEXA scans, weigh yourself daily or even ask me to do your skin folds but if you’re getting stronger, you have to be gaining functional muscle mass, it’s as simple as that.
Hope it helps see you in the gym and the pantry and then the fridge :).