The importance of muscle for health

Most people see building muscle as vain or egotistical. When we think of muscle building we often think of body builders or athletes but it’s important role in health for general population is hugely under-appreciated.

The importance of muscle for health

This is a topic I am extremely passionate about.

Most people see building muscle as vain or egotistical. When we think of muscle building we often think of body builders or athletes but it’s important role in health for general population is hugely under-appreciated.

Building and using muscle is just as, if not more important than diet for your metabolic health yet we seem to focus so much of our attention on demonizing sugar and body fat.. which are another topic for another day… and not enough on the impact of muscle on health.

It’s common to focus on sugar consumption or body fat when talking about metabolic health / disease e.g. type 2 diabetes. A much less common consideration is the important role of muscle.

Let’s use diabetes as an example:

Post meal blood sugar control is one of the key problems faced by type 2 diabetics. Healthy individuals can quickly lower blood glucose levels after a meal but in uncontrolled diabetes glucose levels stay elevated.

Muscle is the biggest site of glucose disposal after eating. And highly sensitive muscle that is used frequently has an enhanced ability to take in glucose from the blood.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that develops over time in various stages and one of the first things to occur is insulin resistance of muscle (and liver but we will focus on muscle here). 

The presence of insulin or the act of stimulus of exercise results in the translocation of glucose transporters to the cell surface of the muscle cells to take in glucose from the blood. Resistance or insensitivity to the presence of insulin results in a reduced ability to clear blood glucose in diabetes.

An analogy I like to use for this is that insulin is like someone knocking on the door of the cell and in a healthy individual the glucose transporters hear the knocking and open the door to let glucose in. However, when an individual develops insulin resistance the glucose transporters become (at least partially) deaf and stop responding as well to the knocking meaning not as much glucose is let in.

We often attribute insulin resistance to increased body fat and under appreciate the role of muscle’s metabolic function.

Increased body fat alone does not cause insulin resistance. Obese people who are not insulin resistant do not have the same problems controlling their glucose levels. Some people term these individuals ‘healthy obese’ and is one of the many reasons you cannot judge someone’s healthy purely by their weight.

I am certainly not saying excess body fat does not play a role and there is a strong body of evidence showing that when overweight type 2 diabetics lose ~10% of their body weight they tend to put their diabetes into remission. The problem with this is we know it’s hard. It is often achieved in this population by VERY low-calorie diets e.g. the Newcastle diet which is 600-800 calories a day. 

We also know that maintaining weight loss is hard AND that people who exercise tend to be better at maintaining their weight loss. 

And we know that increased exercise & activity (even ‘just’ walking) reduces risk of type 2 diabetes independently of changes in body fat.

I don’t want to create another false dichotomy and say we shouldn’t focus on diet we should focus on exercise because we should focus on both… BUT at the moment I don’t think we focus enough on exercise.

Especially exercise that grows or at least maintains muscle.

Here is some proof to back it up:

This study found that muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders.

Focusing on exercise is especially useful for people who have struggled with dieting before (basically anyone who’s struggled with their weight) to realise they are doing themselves the world of good if they are exercising even if they don’t lose weight.

We’ve all heard the sh*tty comments ‘what’s the point going to the gym.. you’ve not lost any weight’ or ‘why are you going you don’t need to lose weight’… As if the sole purpose of exercise is weight loss.

There are so many benefits to exercise beyond weight loss / how many calories you burn during.

Even if you have a load of excess fat you want to lose and you don’t lose any you are still drastically improving your health by exercising.

Not to mention mental health, social and mood benefits.

I hate that people think of exercise solely for fat loss. It’s incredible no matter what your size or goal.

Exercise doesn’t get enough credit for its impact on health. We tend to focus on being lean as the epitome of health when actually the research shows that people who are fit and obese don’t have the same health risks as those who are obese but not fit. Again, health is not a size or body fat %. It is multifactorial!

And further to that point… Fitness is a better predictor of Health and longevity than BMI or body fat is. The authors of this review conclude that:  ‘Researchers, clinicians, and public health officials should focus on physical activity and fitness-based interventions rather than weight-loss driven approaches to reduce mortality risk.’


The above image shows an estimate of the number of deaths in a population that would have been avoided if a specific risk factor had been absent. As you can see low physical activity has a far bigger impact than obesity.

So if you’ve recently increased your activity and exercise but you’ve not lost weight don’t give up because you’re getting huge benefits even if you don’t see a change on the scales.

Why I am passionate about focusing on the power of exercise: 

It is far more fun and empowering to focus on building muscle and the amazing things your body can do than it is to focus on weight loss.

Not only this but building muscle is empowering whereas dieting tends not to be (although certainly can be when it’s done right!).

The awesome thing about exercise is it makes you feel good and when you feel good and you feel like you improving your health guess what happens… you make healthier food choices.. not because you are being forced into dieting but because you want to. You start appreciating your body for the amazing things it can do rather than punishing it by over restricting food and trying to stick to an unenjoyable and unsustainable diet. 

Type 2 diabetics get it hard as they are usually prescribed 2 of the hardest diets to stick to low carb or very low calorie.

Rather than that let’s focus on moving more, building muscle and making some good food choices… CHOICE not restriction (an important differentiation).

It is important that you enjoy the journey because to maintain results you’re going to have to maintain behaviours and you’re not going to stick to something that makes you miserable (nor do you need to get results)

If you want any help building muscle and or losing fat then click here.

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Thank you for your attention,


If you enjoyed this and want to listen to the podcast on muscle and health it is click here and here is one on exercise and ageing too!

If calories are king.. why does it matter what I eat?

How much does it matter how you lose weight?

If calories are king why does it matter what my macros are? Or, in other words; If calories are king why does the composition of my diet matter?

There are 2 main reasons (..or possibly just 1 absolute reason):

1) Essential nutrients

You NEED certain essential amino acids that make up protein and essential fatty acids that make up fat from your diet as your body cannot synthesise these. You also need a supply of vitamins and minerals for your body to function. A varied diet that includes fat, protein, vitamins and minerals gives your body the nutrients it needs to survive and maintain health.

2) Satiety and adherence

You will struggle to stick to a diet that isn’t well balanced.. this is a much lesser point than the first one as people can and do stick to very restrictive diets e.g very low carbohydrate diets, vegan diets or keto diets. However, these diets do have a higher occurrence of deficiencies and if you did decide to follow these you should consider supplementing with nutrients you may be missing. E.g. vitamin b12, calcium, iron and zinc in vegetarians and vegans.

Now I am side tracking back to my original point.. maybe there is only one real reason but my point here is it probably isn’t enjoyable or maintainable for most people to stick to restrictive diets that cut out large parts of a balanced diet long term. Once you have accounted for essential levels of fat, protein and (I would suggest) fibre the rest is up to you/preference.

Note that you will probably have at least some carbs if you meet a decent fibre amount and do not want to rely solely on supplements for vitamins and minerals. You can and will lose weight in an energy deficit no matter what your diet’s macro nutrient composition is.

In fact, we probably over play our need for a ‘healthy’ diet to maintain health. Especially in those who have a lot of fat to lose. Their loss of fat is going to improve their health to a bigger extent than any slight deficiencies they may or may not encounter.

Examples of this include:

The obese man who fasted for over a year, experienced no ill health and only took vitamin and potassium supplements.

And more recently..

The man who went on a convenience store diet AKA the twinkie diet and experienced an improvement in health markers due to his fat loss despite the fact his diet would be classes as ‘unhealthy’ and lacking in nutrients. In fact, Twinkie diet man lost 27lbs in 10 weeks and more importantly his health markers including cholesterol and blood glucose levels improved.

Note that he also took a multivitamin and protein shake and as well as occasional canned veg.

One more example is the Newcastle diet which puts overweight, type 2 diabetics on a very low calorie diet of just 600 calories a day made up largely of a high protein, high sugar meal replacement shake and a salad.
This diet has consistently shown the ability to reverse type 2 diabetes by reducing fat around the pancreas and liver and restoring normal glucose control (more on this here).

Although I am in no way suggesting the diet above I think it is a useful observation and proves the point that if you have a lot of fat to lose fat loss has more benefits to health than diet composition per se. i.e

“When you lose fat, regardless of how you’re doing it — even if it’s with packaged foods, generally you will see important health markers improve.

To conclude:

Although most would assume that eating twinkies to lose weight is unhealthy the data don’t seem to support that. It seems to be the overall fat loss that is the biggest predictor of health.  

When is the best time to eat for fat loss?

When is the best time to eat for weight loss ?

There are quite a few myths around eating at certain times and these aren’t completely unfounded..

Food is not inherently more fattening at any time of day. However, we are humans not robots and we are more likely to over eat at certain times of day which is why rules like not eating after 6pm can result in weight loss.

you work a 9-5 job and eat fairly well during the day because you have a good structure. You get home and have a good evening meal.. adequate protein and lots of veg.. you’re killing it sistaaa💃💃.. but then you sit watching tv mindlessly eating pringles (once you pop you just can’t stop).
If you’d told yourself you were going to stop eating at 6pm (/ arbitrary time after dinner) you would have avoided this and finished the day in a nice little deficit.

Take home: timing of food intake isn’t particularly important in terms of physiology and energy balance but it is when we consider eating behavior and habit changes.


Can you lose fat and build muscle at the same time?

Can you build muscle and burn fat simultaneously ?

In other words can you recompose your body and use energy from fat to drive muscle growth. The answer depends who you are. If you are:

a) Returning to training after injury or time out


b) Newbie trainer with high body fat

Then yes you probably can. If not then sadly no you probably can’t.

Let’s look at situation a)

This is a somewhat observational theory. Nonetheless, people who are returning to exercise after time off tend to get in shape quicker. I am sure there are both physiological and pragmatic reasons for this. I.e. they have previously been in shape so they know how to get in shape.

Situation b) is probably more applicable. The newbie exerciser with high body fat is in the perfect situation to build muscle and lose fat.

The perfect storm:

Factor 1: High body fat
When we have a lot of energy to store (i.e when we eat too much) fat cells become full and insulin resistant making it harder to get energy in to store (Which is why high body fat is associated with hyperglycemia/ high blood glucose and high triglyceride levels).

Factor 2: New to resistance training
Those who are new to exercise have the ability to build muscle faster and from less stimuli than an experienced trainer.

As a new exerciser begins to exercise their muscle cells become more insulin sensitive driving energy towards muscle and away from insulin resistant fat cells thus under these circumstances energy could be preferentially pushed towards muscle over fat.

However, this is likely a short honeymoon period. This is because as the individual successfully diets, loses body fat and leans out their fat cells will become less insulin resistant and more likely to take in energy to add to this as they continue to exercise their rate of muscle building will slow.

After this initial ‘honey moon’ period ( I am guessing a few weeks to a few months) even slow rates of fat loss are not going to be equal to the rate which muscle can be built.

I’m sure this doesn’t hold true for assisted trainers where concurrent fat loss and muscle gain is easier to achieve

If you want to know more about body recomposition I would recommend reading Lyle Macdonald’s work. You can find this on his aptly names website

Just Click here.


The Scales Aren’t Wrong (Sorry)

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The scales aren’t wrong (Sorry)

They may not give the full picture (body composition)and they are on occasion misleading short term  but they are not wrong and if used correctly they are a good measure of progress.

It’s become popular to hate on weighing yourself and the poor scales get a lot of bad press with the key arguments against them being they don’t account for fluctuations in water retention or food in the digestion process.

This is true but water retention tends to be fairly acute/short term. For example if your goal is weight loss and you’ve not lost weight for 4-6 weeks it’s unlikely water retention and more likely that you’re not losing fat.

(before someone says it – yes it *could* be recomposition i.e you are building muscle at the same rate you’re losing fat but this is less common than many would have you believe)

Why are the scales a good tool?

1) They are cheap and readily available
2) they are reliable
3) Easy to use and interpret ( I’m assuming you don’t know how to use and interpret a dexa- you’ll also need to sit through hours of radiation training)
4) It can be used frequently – it’s all well and good going to get a dexa scan or calliper reading but how frequently can you afford to do this and how often would you like feedback?

Things to remember:

Weight loss is not linear
Every measurement tool has its limitations and margins of error accept and acknowledge these before using the tool.

Take home:

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t lose weight week on week but equally don’t kid yourself if you’ve not lost weight (assuming you have weight to lose).

Also remember that diet and exercise offer far more benefits than purely weight loss so make sure you have some performance and/or mastery goals set for yourself too.

If you’re interested in a logical no nonsense approach follow this link to work with me:


The Irony of Supplement Use

Supplement Use

I always find this quite ironic..

Who are the mostly likely group to take supplements? Young health conscious men

Who are the least likely group to need supplements? Young health conscious men

In fact I am going to focus solely on protein supplementation here..

The most frequent users are young health conscious men who probably already get over the recommended dose of protein. It’s not going to do any harm but it is probably not going to do much good either. Some of the key benefits to protein supplementation are timing and rate of absorption. Neither of which are particularly important in young healthy men. Or at least their importance has been VASTLY over emphasised.

Now let’s flip the question:

Who are the least likely group to take supplements? the elderly.
Yet they stand to gain the most.

Protein timing, quality and rate of absorption all become more important as we age thanks largely to anabolic resistance and reduced anabolic hormones. Meaning that as we age become less sensitive to muscle building signals.

A simple whey protein supplement offers high quality protein and a quick rate of protein digestion (speed at which amino acids appear in the blood stream).  This stands to reduce the rate of age related muscle wastage.

In young males who have high levels of anabolic hormones and are sensitive to stimuli from protein and exercise the timing and rate of absorption of protein is of little impact.

Don’t get me wrong protein supplements have their place in terms of ease, convenience and being a great low calorie and cost effective way to bump up protein. But it is a shame that those who stand to gain the most don’t capitalise on them.