A listener of the podcast (Thanks Katherine!) asked a very intriguing question on our Cut the Fat Podcast Facebook Page, she asked (and I paraphrase), “How do I know if I have enough lean muscle mass to consider myself healthy?” She noted that there are plenty of charts and tables for a health body fat, but no such chart for lean mass! So, it sprouted the idea for this post…
First, Katherine can’t find table for healthy muscle mass percentage because no such chart currently exists. Medicine is just now beginning to view “sarcopenia”, the medical term for loss of muscle mass due to aging, as a real problem. In fact, muscle mass may be an easy way to determine which seniors will be able to survive a serious health challenge and which will succumb to the disease!
Why Muscle Mass Percentage Matters
Science has discovering that the quantity of muscle that we maintain is one of the key indicators of health and resilience into old age. It turns out that muscle is the body’s storage depot for protein building blocks…
Let’s say that you come down with a serious infection and, because of the infection, you can’t eat for weeks. Protein is an essential building block that is necessary for the repair of organs and the production of immune cells. If you can’t eat, your body turns to the only storage depot for protein building blocks…your muscle.
The more muscle you have, the more building blocks you have to build immune cells and repair organs.
Now that medicine is understanding the importance of muscle in health and wellness, I believe that we will one day start seeing charts for “ideal muscle mass” in the same way that we have charts for ideal body fat and weight…for now, there is no such thing. So what are we to do?
Dr. Ray’s New System for Determining Ideal Lean Muscle Mass
So, how do we know if we have sufficient muscle to maintain our health?
The reality is it will take years and millions of dollars of research to build a chart for “ideal muscle mass”. That being said, there is a way to estimate our own “ideal muscle mass” while we wait for science to catch up…
We achieve this by measuring lean muscle mass subjectively by evaluating functional strength, flexibility, and function. In other words, the more lean mass you have, the stronger and more functional your body will be…
Let’s look at the three “Levels of Ideal Muscle Mass”…
Level 1 Muscle Mass
This is the amount of muscle mass that you need to do everyday chores and activities with ease. The key here are the words “with ease”. This would include:
1. Walking up stairs without feeling winded while carrying your kid’s book bag
2. Chasing your child at a playground with ease
3. Scrubbing the tub vigorously
4. Getting up and down from the floor without struggling
5. Lift a standard box full of books
6. Standing from a chair without sighing with effort
7. Carry a basket full of laundry
The big questions here are “do you have enough strength and flexibility to meet your daily needs with relative ease?” and “are you limited in every day activity?” If you can perform everyday activities with ease then you have met “Level 1 Muscle Requirements”.
Level 1 is the minimal requirements for good health. If you get winded easily, pull muscles while performing normal activities, can’t lift a standard box full of books, or have difficulty climbing stairs while carrying your kid’s book bag, then you are likely at Level 0 and, thus, at risk of eventually suffering health consequences of insufficient fitness. This might include suffering complications if you ever have to deal with a serious illness such as cancer or infection.
Level 2 Muscle Mass
Level 2 Muscle Mass speak to your ability to do activities that are above and beyond “everyday” tasks and chores, but not uncommon to living in our busy world. This would include:
1. Move furniture
2. Run up stairs without feeling excessively winded
3. Complete a hard 30-45 minute workout (Eye of the Tiger kinda workout)
4. Perform a night of Salsa dancing without being wiped out
5. Get through a Tae Bo DVD workout
6. Run after a child that is about to walk into oncoming traffic
7. Dodge a flying object without pulling a muscle
8. Move from a walk into a sprint without injuring yourself
If Level 1 is average health then level two takes us into the realm of above average health and will convey an advantage to our survival. At level 2, you will be less likely to get sick in the first place and will stack the card in your favor if, God forbid, you do fall ill.
Level 3 Muscle Mass
This brings us to Level 3, which is considered extraordinary levels of muscle mass. Level 3 Muscle Mass allows us to do activities that are unlikely to occur in everyday life but would be hugely advantageous in an emergency situation. This would include:
1. Strength to fight off a larger attacker
2. Speed to dodge a falling asteroid
3. Agility to perform a physical sport, such as: martial arts, soccer, tennis, etc.
4. Impressive flexibility that you can unleash as a party trick
5. Ability to lift objects that 80% of those in your age, weight, height, and sex would not be able to lift
Level 3 Muscle Mass is the kind of muscle mass that your family, friends, and coworkers talk about. They say stuff like, “Wow, did you see Katherine lift that car off of that poor man? She is buff!” I say this only half-jokingly…the truth is Level 3 Muscle Mass is a real thing. It is the strength, fitness, and muscle mass that people admire.
To me, everybody should aspire for Level 2 Muscle Mass. Level 1 is the minimal, average level of muscle fitness. Fat Cutters don’t want to be average!
Level 2 is what me and Blythe deem “healthy”, set your aim on a minimum of Level 2 Muscle Mass and you will live an above average life as it pertains to health.
Level 3 is for our highly motivated Fat Cutters! If you want it, by all means go for it! Just know that you are committing to a tough road, a road that is fruitful and rewarding, but a hard life nonetheless.
We want for you what you want for you as long as it’s Level 2 or better 😉