How to Measure Muscle Mass: How Much Muscle Do You Have?
Learning how to measure muscle mass is a fantastic way to keep an eye on your fitness goals. After putting a lot of time and effort into the gym, you would want to keep track of your progress. There are a few key ways to measure your muscles so that you can continue working towards your end goal.
With this guide, you’ll learn how to measure your muscle mass, lean muscle mass, and be able to differentiate between the two. Not to mention a ton of great tips to help you bulk up and gain healthier muscle mass with less effort.
What Muscle Mass Is
Often you’ll hear people discuss their muscle mass and lean muscle mass as if they are the same thing. When, in fact, lean muscle mass includes measurements beyond just your muscle, it also includes your fluids and your bones. On the other end of the spectrum, muscle mass is simply the total value of muscle on your body.
When you look into getting your measurements, you’ll be taking your smooth, cardiac, and skeletal muscles into account. They're essential parts of your body, as they assist with your balance and mobility. All of these muscles also contribute to your overall strength.
For example, people with a lower muscle mass are going to look and be frailer than those with above-average muscle.
The Average Muscle Mass Percentage
Once you start looking into the different body types you might be interested in achieving, you’ll likely hear about average muscle mass percentages. You’ll also notice that it’s difficult to measure, as there are plenty of factors that will innately affect it, such as your fitness level, ethnicity, your age, and your height.
A study by the Journal of Applied Physiology measured the percentages of muscle in 468 women and men. This study assisted researchers with determining an average muscle mass percentage based on age, but the results are somewhat dated, as the review was in 2000. The below charts will give you a close idea of the averages for both men and women.
Muscle Mass Averages for Women
Muscle Mass Averages for Men
The Importance of Healthy Muscle Mass
Aside from aesthetics, your body needs healthy muscle to operate at its highest efficiency. Having a higher-than-average amount of tissue will benefit you more than a lower or average amount. The most significant benefit being longevity as you get older, but there are plenty of other advantages as well.
1. Strength and Resilience
On average, the human body will lose up to five percent of its muscle mass every ten years, starting at age 30. This process is known as sarcopenia, and when you take the time to build healthier muscle, you’ll be promoting a stronger and more resilient body. Another critical part of maintaining healthy muscle mass is your overall longevity.
The American Journal of Medicine found that older adults who have an increased amount of muscle mass live longer on average than those who don’t. This study was conducted in 2014, so it’s relatable to today’s society.
2. Improved Metabolism
When you start working out, there are plenty of people who talk about how having muscle is one of the essential parts of maintaining their desired figure. This point is valid, as skeletal muscle is fantastic for burning more calories when you’re resting. You’ll find most personal trainers will work with their clients to reduce their fat and then rebuild their measurements out of the muscle.
3. Enhanced Endurance
Endurance is something we use daily, whether it’s by walking to a friend’s house or running up the stairs to grab your phone charger. The more endurance you have, the more natural long-winded exercises will become. You’ll even find that you’ll be able to put more effort into your workouts once you start building your endurance.
The more muscle mass you have, the healthier your body will be overall. It also means you’ll be putting a lot of time and effort into working out. This process, in turn, results in your endurance being better than ever before.
How to Measure Muscle Mass
One thing to be said is that measuring your muscle mass percentage isn’t as easy as measuring your weight. To get the most accurate results, you’re going to need to invest in expensive equipment. You’ll likely spend more money on professional measurements than you would on a personal trainer.
However, there are a few unique ways that you can try to calculate your muscle mass so that you can get a slightly reliable measurement to put to good use. There are three main methods that the professionals use: MRI machines, body fat percentages, and the U.S. military formula.
1. U.S. Military Formula
As one of the most challenging career paths you can choose in the world, you can guarantee the United States military has a reliable way to track muscle mass. As each service member will need to push their body above and beyond, physical strength is of the utmost importance. With the use of this formula, you have the opportunity to get an estimate of your lean body mass.
Typically, there will be a chart that has an assortment of body fat percentages laid out in a table. You will then have a few measurements taken, and by using the formula, you can map yourself onto the body fat percentage chart. Known as your “CV” measurements, circumference value measurements, the way they are taken will differ between men and women.
For men, your circumference value measurements are your abdominal circumference subtracted from the circumference of your neck. Women will have their hip, waist, and neck measured.
The waist measurement is added to the hip value, and the neck circumference is then subtracted. Once you have your CV measurements, you can then go on to charting yourself on the muscle mass index.
- Easy to measure
- Convenient process
- Gives an estimate
- Measurements don’t include muscle size
- Body types differ
2. Body Fat Percentage
This step is probably the most common way that people try to measure their muscle mass percentage since it’s the most accessible and doesn’t require any special equipment. To get your body fat percentage, you would need to weigh yourself on a unique scale. These scales are specifically designed to provide you with your body fat percentage, rather than your overall weight.
The highly advanced technology inside of the scales relies on bioelectrical impedance. By sending a slight current into your body, the current will measure your body fat. This process occurs because the fat will conduct far less energy than muscle, so your results should be relatively accurate.
You’ll also need to prove the scale with other information about yourself, including your age, weight, height, and gender. By combining all of this data, you’ll receive an estimation of what your body fat percentage is. Once you get your rate, subtract it from 100, and this will give you an idea of your lean body mass.
For example, if you have a body fat percentage of 40, your lean body mass should be around 60%. Remember, this is only a relatively accurate way of measuring your lean body mass, which includes your bodily fluids and bones, not just your muscle.
3. MRI Machines
By far, the most accurate way to know how much muscle you have on your body is to use an MRI machine. Due to the cost of imaging, though, this isn’t an accessible option for a lot of people. Most likely, you won’t even go near an MRI machine unless you’re in a severe accident.
When the body is in the machine, there is a magnetic field that arranges the hydrogen atoms in your body. As the particles release energy, the device can then figure out what your total muscle mass is. It’s common for people to know that using an MRI is the highest possible standard for measuring your muscles, but it’s incredibly costly.
Tips for Improving Your Muscle Mass
You’ve probably heard people tell you that eating healthy and working out are the two best ways to improve your muscle mass, but how? There are a ton of useful tips that you can use to promote the loss of fat and to gain muscle mass, these being our favorites.
1. Increase Protein Intake
Protein is the essential nutrient your body would need when you start building muscle. When you work out, your tissue breaks down and requires protein to build themselves back up. By making sure you ingest enough of this nutrient, you’ll be giving your muscles the support they need to heal and bulk.
The best part about protein is that you can find it from numerous sources. You can rely on the traditional method of eating meat, or you can get protein for plants. There are several vegan and vegetarian bodybuilders who use plant protein to achieve their goals.
The best way to estimate how much protein you should be eating is easy. On average, you should consume at least one gram of protein per 454g of your body weight.
2. Focus on Whole Foods
Whole foods are grown the way all food is intended to be, without the addition of preservatives, fillers, and humanmade ingredients. By buying and cooking whole foods at home, you would know what you’re putting into your body. On average, you should be consuming about 90% whole foods when you’re looking to bulk.
These foods aren’t refined and are available in their natural states, such as eggs, fruits, fish, poultry, vegetables, quinoa, and oats. You should avoid processed foods that contain corn syrup, sugars, sodium, trans-fats, and, most especially, nitrates. A few of our favorite whole food ideas to add to your meal plans include:
- Fish: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, salmon
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese
- Rice and Grains: Quinoa, brown rice, and oats
- Seeds and Nuts
- Whey Protein
3. Establish an Eating Schedule
One thing’s for sure, the more you work out, the hungrier you’re going to be throughout the day. This effect happens because as you pump iron or do some cardio, your body is burning through the energy you get from your food. The best thing you can do to ensure you are well-fed and not hungry during the day is to establish an eating schedule.
Plan three times daily when you’ll sit down and enjoy your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll also want to add in a couple of meals after your workout, before you go to bed, and account for healthy snacks. When you establish a meal plan, your body will learn to get hungry at specific times of the day.
It can be incredibly tempting to go to a vending machine and treat yourself to a chocolate bar because of how hard you’re working out. If you plan your meals accordingly, though, you won’t have as many cravings, and you’ll know when you get to enjoy your next meal.
4. Focus on Recovery
Pushing your body to its limits is easy enough, but it’s also important to remember your body needs time to heal. There are several things you can do post-workout to give your muscles the support they need, with protein being the most important. Whether it’s in the form of a post-workout shake or a protein-packed meal, make sure your muscles get their nutrients after you break them down.
You’ll also want to focus on rehydrating slowly with the help of water. Many athletes also suggest that eating carbs after a workout is essential. As carbs are burned for energy, if you eat them after working out, you’ll be able to sustain yourself throughout the day.
With these methods for learning how to measure muscle mass, you can get an estimate of how much muscle you have in your body. Unless you’re willing to invest in an MRI scan, it’s challenging to differentiate between lean muscle mass and general muscle mass. By sticking to healthier foods and an intense workout regimen, you will be able to achieve your ideal physique in less time.