You may be a ride-or-die elliptical lover, but if you think cardio alone will get you in the best shape of your life, we’ve got a newsflash for you: Your body needs muscle.
“The 11 body systems (think cardiovascular, digestive, etc.) need to function in harmony for us to thrive,” says Jacqueline Crockford, M.S., C.S.C.S., Exercise Physiology Content Manager at ACE. “We need a healthy muscular system to move properly and safeguard joints and internal tissues and organs.”
These six benefits of having healthy muscle mass just might convince you to hit the weight room and make some gains, stat.
You’ll Have A Higher Metabolism
The more muscle mass we have, the greater the energy our metabolism needs throughout the day. “Lean mass—like muscles, bones, and skin—burn two to three times as many calories per pound per day than fat,” says Crockford. “Fat burns around two calories per pound per day, while lean mass burns around six calories per pound per day.”
If you weigh 150 pounds and have 20 percent body fat (that’s 30 pounds of fat and 120 of lean mass), you burn almost 100 more calories per day than someone of the same weight and 30 percent body fat (that’s 42 pounds of fat and 108 pounds of lean mass). And that’s just if you slept all day. This is known as your resting metabolic rate, or total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Related: Make sure your muscles are getting the support they need.
You Can Better Manage Your Weight
Looking to shed some pounds? Having more muscle—and the higher metabolism that goes along with it—can help you get there quicker. “Of the total calories we burn in a day, about 30 percent come from physical activity and exercise,” says Crockford. “Meanwhile, your resting metabolic rate contributes to roughly 75 percent.” So while a little extra cardio helps you burn calories, having muscle makes much more of a difference.
Your Bones Make #Gains, Too
Guys, if you think women are the only ones at risk for osteoporosis, think again. “Even though we hear more about osteoporosis in women, it actually can affect men, as well,” says Crockford. Fortunately, you promote bone strength by lifting weights and increasing how much muscle you have. When you strength train, your muscles pull on ligaments, which pull on bones and promote bone growth, says Crockford. Work your muscles today, protect your bones tomorrow.
You Protect Yourself From Injuries
Along with osteoporosis, there’s another not-so-fun condition that often comes along with aging. “As we get older, many people experience sarcopenia, which is the deterioration of muscle mass, often because they’re no longer active” says Crockford. Without adequate muscle, your mobility becomes limited and you face a greater risk of falling, she adds. Regular strength training helps promote muscle and strength gains, which may help keep you accident free as you age, Crockford adds.
In the meantime, our muscles also help prevent joint injuries. “Having properly functioning muscle helps support our joints,” says Crockford. Here, more isn’t always better, though. Having loads of leg muscle isn’t ideal if you’re going to run a marathon, because that muscle mass puts extra pressure on your joints, she says. That’s why endurance runners and sprinters have such different physiques: Their sports require different amounts and types of muscle. If you’re not sure how to best strength train for your lifestyle, talk to a certified trainer.
You’ll Stand Up Straighter
Sayonara, slouchy shoulders! Strong muscles make for straighter posture. “Our core musculature supports our spine, which is key for proper posture,” says Crockford. Those of us who sit at desks all day are far too familiar with that rounding in our upper back and shoulders. When you look at an athlete, though, you’ll notice they tend to walk upright, with their chest out and shoulders pulled back and down, says Crockford. Strong core muscles make for better spinal support and a more confident stance.
You’ll Build A Killer Physique
If you really want to change the shape of your bod, it’s time to hop off the treadmill. “Strength training and muscle-building really change the body aesthetically and metabolically,” says Crockford. “All the walking in the world isn’t going to give you more shapely arms or toned glutes.” Of course, getting that cardio in is key to maintaining your cardiovascular health, but if you’re after a total body transformation, muscle will get you there, says Crockford.
So…Are You Feeding Those Muscles?
When it comes to building muscle through exercise, consistency is key. “You need full-body strength training at least twice a week,” says Crockford. Your actual workouts may vary, but aim to include at least six to eight multi-joint exercises that use multiple muscle groups, like deadlifts or squats, she says.
What you put on your plate is equally important. “To maintain or even build muscle, your daily diet should be anywhere from twelve to 20 percent protein,” says Crockford. If you eat 2000 calories per day, about 300 of those calories should be from protein.
Related: Whey or plant-based protein powders can help you boost your daily intake.
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