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The Importance of Muscle & Protein

Many leading health proponents from well known doctors, wellness advocates as well as fitness leaders are telling you to strength train...and to eat more protein...Including me.

I wish to take this opportunity to

apologise for being one of those annoying people!

Rather than just add to the noise however I want to go a step further (bear with me!) and help to explain why it's so important. So much research looks at health outcomes i.e. do this for 3 - 6 months and see if it gives a bunch of people with a certain health condition better health stats than a control group. Thousands upon thousands of studies show exercise works!

But we've known this for decades and that alone is not going to get us moving more - it's just white noise. Like other lifestyle practices, for us to really take them on board , it has to be relatable. So let's take a deep dive inside of you and have a real good look at your muscles!

And if, after reading this , you want to start taking action, I've got multiple ways you can!

When I first learnt about muscles as a student, we talked purely in terms of "Biomechanics' i.e. muscles, tendons & ligaments as structures that support bones/joints that enable us to move. As to exactly how they moved - we'd rote learn some physiology which was full of assumptions and things I didn't really understand. Over the last 10 years however research has advanced and we are now getting to know why moving big, and moving with load is so vitally important to us. This is not just about a bunch of outcomes - i.e. measurable biometrics that makes everything feel nice and fluffy. We are talking about processes at a cellular level that, through exercise, can literally reverse disease from alzheimers to osteoporosis and cancer. The kind of thing laboratories spend countless hours and resources on to find pharmaceutical cures.

I'm still trying to get my head around it all - think I always will! But the days of our muscles being seen as a way to make us move, simply for better health, are over. The more we understand this, the more we will realise that loading your muscles, 2 - 4 x week, really is non negotiable. That's if you want to live a long and fulfilled life.

So how?

Enter a new term which needs to become a main stay in our health vocabulary - Muscle - Organ Cross Talk...

If you have read my blog from a couple of weeks ago - Why Women need Weights more than Men,

you'll already know that our muscles are made up of fibres and I explain in my latest video on The Wall Pilates Challenge how the contractile myofibril proteins Myosin and Actin, work together, along with neurological & energy pathways, to make your muscles contract. When your muscles are put under stress/tension during resistance training, physiological changes occur in the muscle cells leading to a cascade of molecular changes that lead to muscle protein synthesis & muscle hypertrophy (build). This means, protein, in its molecular structure, (called amino acids), binds together with the myobrils actin and myosin to grow more muscle fibre. What's so fascinating is that this process also induces both a hormone and an immune response.

As well as muscle protein synthesis we also get muscle protein breakdown - Like with many organs in the body, our muscles are in a constant state of remodelling. Eating protein promotes protein synthesis, which is why it's so important to eat protein with every meal so that your body is able to continue this remodelling process, but it's movement that can actually increase your muscle fibre volume, and, with increasing rates of breakdown as we age, there really is nothing else that can help us to maintain our muscles. Research shows that hormones such as Estrogen help us but not necessarily with protein synthesis itself. Postmenopausal women have an even higher rate of muscle protein turnover and therefore more susceptible to loss and it's possible (more research needed) that estrogen here has a role in increasing our anabolic stimuli - this is our bodies ability to respond to muscle growth and therefore lessening the rate of muscle protein loss. Studies on post menopausal women who do resistance training have increased gains in muscle mass, but women who are on HRT and strength train had better results.

There are so many health benefits from just increasing our muscle mass but as I mentioned earlier, when muscles contract, with load, this also induces a hormonal and immune response which leads us to the term Muscle - Organ Cross talk and the role of Myokines.

Myokines are cytokines produced through muscle contractions. Cytokines are protein cells that help regulate our bodies cell growth and immune responses and are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

The first Myokine was discovered in 1989. There are now hundreds of identified myokines and probably 100's more to be discovered. The first one of was Interluekin -6 or IL-6 and although seen as a pro-inflammatory cytokine in other pathways, when released by muscle, the affects are anti-inflammatory. Exercise appears to have many more positive responses with myokine release and are able to crosstalk other areas of the body affecting brain, adipose tissue, bone, liver, gut, pancreas, vascular bed, and skin. A Myokine that's a hot topic for conversation is called BDNF - Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor. Research has shown that resistance training increases levels of BDNF. This not only has positive effects on many areas of brain health, it's also a regulator of the central nervous system. What's really interesting here is the positive effects of BDNF through exercise on diseases such as Parkinson's yet the same effects were not seen when BDNF was applied via medication.

BDNF also has a positive effect on metabolism as do more recently discovered Myokines such as Irison. Irison is known to change white (bad) fat to brown (good) fat. Increasing brown fat leads to increased thermogenesis which improves metabolism. - i.e. you burn more fat. There are many other areas of study with this particular Myokine that impact positively on so many big disease risk factors from diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

We still have a huge amount to learn when it comes to Myokines and their direct role. We also don't know the optimal training type and pathway - there are different ways in which we can stimulate muscle contraction. You will hear of studies that focus on HIIT (high intensity interval training) as opposed to weight training or resistance training and others that focus more on muscular endurance. Worth noting here that one study doesn't paint a complete picture by any means and probably the most important variable, in terms of the results you get, is you. So we need far more research but what I find particularly fascinating is how, when produced via muscle fibre promoting exercise, these myokines seem to have a positive effect that does not occur when administered as a drug.

There is potentially a uniqueness to muscle building that creates a protective barrier - Being strong just got far bigger than the size of your biceps or the cut of your abs.

There are huge consequences for this. Exercise is already being used as a tool to combat so many diseases but often seen as complimentary or secondary to drugs. I wonder if, in certain disease areas we could see a reversal of this? It's already happening in muscular-skeletal health concerns but when you look at just how muscle building can affect almost every organ in the body - I just wonder if it could happen in other areas too?

Movement certainly is Medicine and we also know that results get bigger and better with repeated exposure - that means consistency and longevity in your movement really counts. One advantage to resistance training is that it's accessible to far more people, cheap to access and doesn't require huge amounts of time, unlike many other types of training. This has to count. So whether you hit the gym, the tool shed, the mountain trail path or pick up some weights in your living room, you've got to find something that's consistent and you can do, week in, week out.

And that's where we can help. You can contact us here. To find out about our variety of programmes that can get you back into regular exercise. We also provide mentoring programmes where you can be guided by us doing your own form of movement - whether you have a health concern or simply need to get going, we can help.

237 views2 comments


Fascinating stuff Jane .... keep it coming! x

Dec 07, 2023
Replying to

Ahh glad you like it! ❤️. Thank you for commenting!

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