How to Gain More Skeletal Muscle Mass

PLN goes over what Skeletal Muscle is and How to add more of it.

Published December 29, 2022

8 minute read

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How to Gain More Skeletal Muscle Mass


So you have had your first body scan and are looking to increase your skeletal muscle mass (SMM).  Here I will try to explain what skeletal muscle mass is, why it is important, and how to get more of it!


What is skeletal muscle?

One of the three main types of muscles in the body is skeletal muscle. The other two are smooth muscle and cardiac muscle. Your tendons connect these muscles to the bones, which is how they got their name. Skeletal muscles have nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue that all work together. 


Each skeletal muscle is made up of skeletal muscle cells that come together to form bundles of skeletal muscle fibers. Strength training activates these muscle fibers, which, when combined with good nutrition, will lead to hypertrophy or muscle growth. 


Muscles shorten and tighten to pull on the bones and joints, which move the body. The nervous system will send a signal to the nerves in the muscle, which will then contract. Skeletal muscles help you move, keep your posture, make body heat, and keep your bones and joints stable.

Skeletal Muscle vs Lean Muscle

People often mix up lean body mass and skeletal muscle mass and use the terms lean muscle and skeletal muscle interchangeably, but they are actually two different things.

Muscle is considered "lean" because it is mostly made up of lean proteins. Lean body mass (LBM), which is also called "lean mass," is your total weight minus all the fat mass in your body. This includes your organs, skin, bones, body water, and muscles.  

Skeletal muscle is part of your lean body mass, but lean body mass is not part of your skeletal muscle mass. 


Do I need to eat a high-protein diet for larger muscle gain?


To gain more muscle, you should eat high-quality protein right before and within 24 hours of resistance training.

When you do resistance exercises, the strain of repetition tears the muscle fibers, and the protein you eat (along with other macronutrients like carbs and fat, which also play a role) gives your body the materials it needs to rebuild the torn muscles into something bigger and stronger.

Also, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and as you probably already know, these macronutrients are what make up your muscle. 


The good news is that your body makes a lot of these amino acids on its own. The bad news is that the body can't make some of them, which are called essential amino acids (EAA). You can only get your EAAs from food.

How much protein do skeletal muscles need to grow?


We recommend an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) for building and maintaining muscle mass. Keep in mind that your specific nutritional requirements depend on your level of muscle mass as well as the nature and volume of your physical activity.

Keeping these numbers in mind, let's say you weigh 125 pounds (57 kilos) and are trying to increase your LBM. You would need 79.8–114 grams of protein a day, which is 57 times 1.4–2.0.


This might seem like a lot, but it isn't. A cup of chicken (140 grams) has 43 grams of protein. On the other hand, a can of tuna can hold up to 49 grams.  If you ate a cup of chicken and a can of tuna, you'd almost meet all of your protein needs. If you add in a glass of 2% milk (another 9-10 grams of protein), you’ve already hit your goal.


Here is a rough guide for what you should eat based on how active you are:

  • 0.8-1.2 g/kg for regular activity
  • 1.2-1.5 g/kg for endurance athletes
  • 1.5-1.8 g/kg for strength/power athletes

If you don't want to keep track of how many grams of protein you eat each day, researchers have suggested taking in 20–40 grams of whey protein after a hard bout of whole-body resistance exercise to help your muscles recover faster. The results showed that the traditional 20 grams of whey supplement after working out did not increase MPS as much as the 40 grams of protein. 

Can I build more skeletal muscle by eating too much protein? 

Researchers found that eating five times the amount of protein that is recommended for a day has no effect on the body composition of resistance-trained people who keep doing the same workouts. That means that doubling or tripling the amount of protein you eat won't make you gain more muscle after you work out.


It's also important to note that this is one of the first interventional studies to show that eating high-protein meals doesn't cause the fat mass to increase.

Will too much protein harm my kidneys?

Even though limiting protein may be a good way to treat kidney disease, some research has shown that a high protein intake does not hurt kidney function in healthy people. Unlike extra fat stores, which the body wants to keep, protein's amino acids are more likely to leave the body through the urine when they aren't needed.


Keeping this in mind, there are some risks to eating too much protein, so it's best to watch how much you eat. So what is our conclusion here?

Eating more protein makes you feel fuller for longer, can help you stop overeating, and is essential for recovery and growth. However, don't forget other important nutrients like carbs and fats when trying to reach your daily caloric goals.

Should I eat more meat to get more skeletal muscle?


Yes, meat is a good source of protein because it has complete sources of protein and a lot of essential amino acids.


In another study, 74 men and women with type 2 diabetes, half of whom were on a vegetarian diet and the other half on a traditional diabetic diet, were checked at three months and six months to see how much weight they had lost.  The study found that the vegetarian diet helped people lose almost twice as much weight as the traditional diet.


But here's the catch: people who followed a vegetarian diet lost more weight, but they also lost more muscle, even when they kept up their normal exercise routine. Compared to the omnivorous diet, this could be an unwelcome result and a drawback.


Lastly, a study looked at the relationship between the type of protein eaten and the amount of muscle mass in healthy omnivorous and vegetarian Note, though, that these results don't necessarily mean that animal protein is needed to build muscle.

Can I still build skeletal muscle if I stick to a plant-based diet?


It seems that some plant-based proteins are just as good as animal proteins for building muscle. In a study that was published in the Journal of Nutrition, it was found that taking rice protein supplements after resistance training was just as good as taking whey protein supplements. Both groups had less fat mass, lean body mass, hypertrophy of the skeletal muscles, and more power and strength. 


Also, plant-based proteins are often harder to digest than animal proteins. But isolated protein, like rice protein powder, is as easy to digest as proteins from animals, making it a better post-workout supplement than whey protein.


Do I need to limit my intake of carbs and fat when I'm on a high-protein diet?


If you want to build more muscle, it makes sense to eat more protein. But that doesn't mean you should stop eating carbs and fats. 

Carbohydrates help replace glycogen and improve insulin's ability to move nutrients into cells, such as your muscles. Combining protein and carbs also helps prevent muscle breakdown after a workout and boosts growth.

The best way to build muscle is to eat a balanced diet of protein, carbs, fats, and fiber.

Will a ketogenic diet help me get more muscle mass?


The main idea behind a ketogenic diet is to choose a diet that is high in fat, has a moderate amount of protein, and has very few carbs.

In an 11-week study of men who did resistance training three times a week, researchers found that those who ate a very low-carb, ketogenic diet gained a lot of lean body mass. Significant fat loss was also observed among the subjects.

Does when I eat matter if I want to build skeletal muscle?


Since the 1970s, the idea of nutrient timing (eating certain macronutrients at certain times, like before, during, or after exercise) and planning meals has caused a lot of interest, excitement, and confusion.


The anabolic window is a good example of nutrient timing. This is a period of time after exercise when our bodies are supposed to be ready for nutrients to help them recover and grow. 

More attention should be paid to making sure that people who work out get all the protein they need for the day, preferably in small amounts about every three hours.


They also say that eating 20–40 g of protein every 3–4 hours (0.25–0.40 g/kg of body mass/dose) from a high-quality source seems to have a positive effect on MPS rates compared to other eating patterns. This means that body composition and performance can be improved.


In short, it's more important to think about how much protein and carbs you eat as a whole throughout the day than to worry about when you eat them.

How do I know if I'm actually building skeletal muscle? 

When you say you want to build muscle, you're really talking about your skeletal muscle mass (SMM). Here's why we want to keep track of this:


A change in your SMM isn't the only thing that can cause your lean body mass numbers to go up. Water gain can also do this. Water gain can happen when you get bloated or eat salty foods, but it can also be caused by swelling from an injury or illness. Because of this, you can't put all of an increase in LBM on muscle gains.


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