Did you know you have more than 600 muscles in your body? These muscles help you move, lift things, pump blood through your body, and even help you breathe.

You might think that increasing the amount of muscle you have is a goal only Arnold Schwarzenegger style body builders and athletes should strive for, but you would be mistaken.

Having an increased amount of muscle not only has many health benefits, but is also what people are referring to when they say they want to have a ‘toned’ and ‘defined’ body. That definition that people strive for, is actually having a good amount of muscle mass with a low amount of body fat.

In order to achieve your health and fitness goals, it’s imperative to not only increase the amount of muscle mass you have, but to also take optimal care of your muscles.

Common causes of muscle pain and poor muscle health are:
• Stress
• Dehydration
• Overuse/injury
• Poor diet
• Poor posture

Managing Stress

We’ve all heard it before – you or someone you know has said “I’m stressed out!”. But what does that actually mean, and how can it impact our muscles?

Stress is your body’s response to certain situations, and can include daily stressors such as sitting in traffic or a difficult customer or client at work, or chronic stress such as consistent worrying or anxiety. Your hypothalamus, a tiny control centre in your brain, controls many of the body’s essential hormones. In times of stress, no matter how big or small, the hypothalamus triggers the stress hormone called ‘cortisol’.

This response was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. But when the stress response keeps firing, day after day, and in large amounts, your muscles and your overall health can suffer. Different people have different reactions to stress, and what may cause stress for one person, may not for another.

For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with potentially serious situations. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond.

Your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury when you’re stressed. They tend to release again once you relax, but if you’re constantly under stress, your muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles can cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches.

Tips for Managing Stress

• Identifying your trigger/stressor, and avoid it or change it if possible.

• Set limits for yourself. Sometimes we can bite off more than we can chew and can become overwhelmed. It might be hard to turn someone down or not participate in a certain event, but saving your energy and having time for yourself is important.

• Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, aim for progress and doing the best you can with the situation you’re given.

• Try not to get overwhelmed. Make a list of what you need to get done, and prioritize each item. Just take it one task or issue at a time.

• Take deep breaths – inhale and exhale solely throughout the day when you are feeling stressed. This will help deliver essential oxygen to your body and muscles.

• Get support from others. Talk to your spouse, children, parents, friends and coworkers. Let them know you’re trying to reduce the amount of stress you deal with and ask for help when you need it.

• Practice healthy lifestyle habits. It’s easy to skip exercise and proper nutrition when you’re stressed, but this is counterintuitive and can create a vicious cycle. Exercise and good nutrition can combat the negative effects of stress on your body and can improve your mental health.

• Take a time out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn some other relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.

Keeping Hydrated

Stay hydrated gradually, throughout the day by drinking fluids and eating water-rich foods. A healthy person needs roughly 9-12 cups of fluid per day. Drinking fluids is crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of every system in your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles. While water is one of the best sources, even milk and milk alternatives, coffee, tea, broths, and water-rich foods count towards your fluid intake.

Proper Rest and Recovery

We know resistance training and proper nutrition are essential for building muscle mass, however, many people underestimate the importance of rest and recovery for muscle health as well as overall health.

Rest is considered as sleep and the time spent not training. It is imperative to get a good amount of sleep each night, as sleep promotes ‘anabolism’ which is the building of new tissues, and ultimately, where a lot of muscle recovery and growth happens. Inadequate sleep can lead to a host of health issues, such as increased cortisol levels, reduced energy and performance, etc., all which can affect muscle health. It’s also important to allow enough rest in between exercise sessions, to allow proper time for muscles to recover.

Recovery refers to techniques and actions taken to maximize your body’s repair. These include hydration, nutrition, posture, heat, ice, stretching, myofascial release, stress management, compression, and time spent standing versus sitting versus lying down.

A balanced combination of rest and recovery along with proper diet and exercise should be a part of any regimen for optimal muscle health, and overall health.

Good Nutrition

Healthy muscles require protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, all of which we get the most easily from food.


The bulk of your muscle tissue is made up of proteins. For optimal muscle health, the protein-rich foods you eat must contain essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein your body can’t synthesize. These amino acids are abundant in animal protein sources, such as milk products, meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.

Plant-based foods often lack one or more essential amino acids, but by eating a variety of items that have some amino acids, for example, legumes with whole grains, you will get all the essential amino acids you need. Soy protein and quinoa are plant-based sources that provide all essential amino acids.

Aim for 1.5-2 grams (or higher) of protein per kg of bodyweight per day, for optimal muscle growth and recovery when participating in a consistent resistance training program.


Carbohydrates contribute to muscle health by providing a ready energy source to power your physical activities. Supplying your muscles with fuel allows you to perform more work and challenge your muscles to meet your fitness goals. Carbs promote the release of insulin, which stimulates your muscles to incorporate new amino acids for the building of new tissue. Carbohydrates are found in whole grains, legumes, milk products, fruits and vegetables.


Dietary fats can play several roles in muscle health. While too many fats or the wrong kinds of fats can be detrimental to your overall health, including adequate healthy fats is beneficial both to your skeletal muscle and to your heart. Unsaturated fats – such as those found in fish oils, olive/peanut oil/canola oil/soybean/avocado oil, avocado, nuts and seeds – help maintain the integrity and fluidity of the cell membranes in your muscle tissue.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals supply small but essential molecules that keep your muscles functioning optimally.

For example, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous are important nutrients that ensure muscles contract as they should. This is especially true for the heart (which is a muscle!).

Vitamin C aids in the formation of collagen and elastin, which are important for the elasticity and flexibility of muscles. In addition, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that repairs the micro-tears our muscles sustain during hard exercise sessions.

Vitamin E is another proven muscle-rebuilding antioxidant and can diminish delayed onset muscle soreness.

By eating a balanced, varied diet, high in lean protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, fruits and veggies, you should be consuming adequate nutrients to keep your muscles healthy. If you feel that you are lacking in any of the above nutrients, speak to your healthcare provider about supplementation.

Proper Posture

“Sit up straight!” “Don’t slouch!” I’m sure we’ve all heard those scolding words more than once from one or more authority figures when we were growing up. Little did we know this had more benefits to it than just being the ‘appropriate thing to do’.

Basically, posture refers to the body’s alignment and positioning with respect to the ever-present force of gravity. Whether we are standing, sitting or lying down gravity exerts a force on our joints, ligaments and muscles. Good posture entails distributing the force of gravity through our body so no one structure is overstressed.

Proper posture affects how you walk, run, jump, lift weights, and execute many other skills. No wonder it’s so important for muscle health!

Good posture helps us keep bones and joints in correct alignment so that our muscles are used correctly, decreasing the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative arthritis and joint pain. A good posture allows muscles to work more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy and, therefore, preventing muscle fatigue. It also helps prevent muscle strain, overuse disorders, and even back and muscular pain.

So, it’s even more important than we once thought to be mindful of the way our body is positioned. For more information on proper posture, visit here. (

Healthy muscles let you move freely and keep your body strong, and can also give your body that ‘defined’ look that many people strive for, especially when coupled with fat loss. Muscles help you to enjoy playing sports, dancing, walking the dog, swimming, and other fun activities.

The more of the above lifestyle practices you can implement, the healthier your muscles, and overall health will be.

About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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