I talk a lot about different ways that you can improve your thyroid but one of the best may be the one we are going to talk about today:
Building more muscle mass.
I know you might have already tuned out but let me give you an idea of just how important the connection is between your muscle mass and thyroid function.
Approximately 30-40% of your entire body mass is made up of your muscles and these muscles are considered to be thyroid-responsive tissues.
Guess what happens if your muscle mass is less than it should be?
This, by the way, is definitely the case for many of you listening to this right now…
You are going to see a big drop in thyroid function because there’s less tissue to be stimulated by it.
But this isn’t all.
In addition to being a target of thyroid hormone action, your muscles also require thyroid hormone to develop, grow, and regenerate (1).
If your thyroid function is less than it should be, not only will you see a decrease in muscle mass and metabolism, but you will also have a very hard time growing your muscles.
So is your muscle mass important for thyroid function? Absolutely.
But let’s say that this connection still isn’t very interesting to you.
If I can’t convince you to build more muscle mass to improve your thyroid, maybe I can convince you by showing you how important it is to your weight.
The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism will be, and easier it will be for you to lose weight and stay lean.
In short, building more muscle mass improves your weight, your metabolism, and your thyroid all at once.
Are you interested now?
The good news is that building muscle mass is not as hard as you might think, but it’s also not as straightforward as most people think.
Here’s how to do it:
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Build More Mass With the Right Inputs: Diet, Supplements & Thyroid Function
Building muscle mass comes down to two simple concepts:
Inputs and outputs.
It requires both things and, when done correctly, they will optimize your body into a muscle-building, fat-burning, thyroid-optimized machine, the way it was designed to operate.
Let’s talk about inputs first:
Inputs refer to what you put into your mouth and, when it comes to thyroid patients that want to build muscle, what we are really concerned about are three things:
#1. Your diet.
#2. Thyroid function.
And #3. Supplements.
Numbers 1 and 2 are non-negotiable, your diet needs to be on point and your thyroid must be optimized for maximum muscle-building capacity.
Supplements are not required, but they can definitely speed up the process and make it a lot faster.
Let’s focus on diet first.
Managing Your Intake of Protein & Carbohydrates
When it comes to food and muscle mass, we have two big macromolecules that we need to talk about…
Protein and carbohydrates.
The reality is, if your muscle mass is lacking, then you are most likely not eating enough quality protein and probably overeating carbohydrates.
Yes, you need both carbohydrates and proteins to build muscle, but most people eat way more carbohydrates in the form of sugars than they need.
This leads to a problem that roughly 50% of the population suffers from called insulin resistance.
Your muscles are a highly metabolic tissue which means they have a high demand for energy and for sugar.
Insulin is needed to get this sugar into your muscles so that they can grow.
But what happens in most people is that they are resistant to the effects of insulin so their muscles are unable to get the energy they need to grow.
In a sense, insulin resistance causes a starving of the muscles even though the body has plenty of sugar and energy floating around inside of it (2).
It just can’t push the sugar into the muscles where it needs to be.
The solution to this problem is actually very simple!
Eat more protein.
Most people automatically assume that if sugar is the problem, then reducing sugar will solve the problem.
And while there’s definitely truth to that statement, it’s far better to not only reduce your sugar intake but replace it with protein instead.
If you think about it from the perspective of putting priority on increasing protein, then you don’t really have to worry about sugar as much.
And the more control you have over your appetite, the easier it will be for you to limit your intake of sugary unhealthy foods.
In a sense, increasing protein intake will almost automatically cause a reduction in carbohydrate intake.
You just can’t fill yourself up with as many carbs as you used to if your protein intake is high.
So don’t think about it from the perspective of carbs, think about it from the perspective of protein.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
At a minimum, you should aim to get 60 grams of protein each day from animal sources or 100 grams of protein if you prefer plant sources.
The source of protein that you consume matters because not all proteins are created equal.
Each source contains a different ratio of amino acids and not all of that protein is digested and absorbed when you consume it (4).
In addition, some amino acids are vital for building muscles while others are not as important.
So you could be eating a diet that’s high in protein, but getting the wrong ratio of amino acids in your protein source which means you won’t build much muscle.
Collagen is one of those sources of protein that confuses people.
Its amino acid composition is great for improving the gut, skin, bones, and cartilage (5), but it’s not as great for building muscle mass.
All of this just means that if you prefer to get your protein from plant sources, you are going to need to consume more to obtain the same benefit as someone who primarily gets their protein from animal sources.
The absorption rate varies from source to source, but you can expect to absorb about 95% of protein from animal sources and around 60 to 70% of protein from plant sources.
This isn’t a problem, just something to be aware of.
This 60 to 100-gram range is really just the bare minimum, by the way.
My personal recommendation for optimal muscle-building capacity is to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, using your ideal body weight as a guide.
So if you are someone who weighs 150 pounds but your ideal body weight is 130 pounds, you would aim to consume 130 grams of protein each day.
Some people, women especially, struggle to get their protein in each day, but I can promise you that if you get up to this level, you won’t need to worry about your carb or sugar intake.
You will be so full from your protein intake, that sugary sweets won’t even be on your mind.
The Best Sources of Whole-Food Protein From Plants & Animals
But this begs the question, how can you consistently get this much protein each and every day?
This is important because your body can’t store protein like it can sugar and fat, so protein is something you need to consume daily.
It’s actually quite easy.
Focus on consuming lean meats, fish, and eggs if you prefer animal protein and lentils, peas, beans, chia, and hemp if you prefer plant sources.
As always, you’ll have to experiment with different sources to see how your body responds, but you’ll be able to figure it out with some trial and error.
And, if you have trouble getting this much protein each day from whole food sources then you can always supplement with protein powders.
Whey-based protein powders contain a complete amino acid profile for muscle building but they aren’t always tolerated very well by thyroid patients.
For this reason, I think plant-based protein powders are better if you have a thyroid problem but you will need to get a blend of plant-based proteins like pea, hemp, and chia to match the amino acid profile of whey.
So if you are using a plant-based protein powder, keep that in mind.
The amount of protein you consume is very important but you can’t neglect the next thing we need to discuss which is thyroid function.
Don’t Forget About Thyroid Function
You need the right inputs and outputs to build muscle but you can be doing everything right and still not build muscle mass if your thyroid isn’t working properly.
If you recall from the very beginning of this conversation, I said that you need optimal thyroid function for your muscles to grow, develop, and regenerate.
This means you’re going to have a very hard time building any muscle mass if your thyroid is underperforming which is the problem most people face.
You need to optimize thyroid function with natural treatments or with thyroid medication or a combination of both, which is what I think works best.
It doesn’t matter how you increase your thyroid, you just need to make sure that it’s normal and not too high or too low.
This is a whole other conversation in itself, so I won’t go into detail in this article but what you need to know is that most thyroid patients do NOT have optimal thyroid function even if their thyroid lab tests are “normal”.
The good news is that there’s always a way to optimize your thyroid.
Don’t neglect this step if you have a thyroid problem!
Outputs: The Right Type of Exercise
Now that you understand what inputs are needed, we can talk about outputs.
And by outputs, what I’m really referring to here is exercise.
Exercise is a four-letter word to many thyroid patients because their thyroid problem often leads to the symptom of fatigue.
And, let’s face it, it’s hard to exercise if you feel like you don’t have any energy.
But let me flip this idea on its head by suggesting that you can’t afford not to exercise because exercise can paradoxically increase your energy, assuming you are doing it correctly.
Three things happen when you do the right type of exercise that are particularly beneficial to thyroid patients:
#1. You will stimulate muscle growth which will help build muscle mass and provide a target for more thyroid hormone action.
This will help to increase thyroid function and help reduce thyroid-related symptoms.
This is the big benefit that I’ve been talking about this whole time, but it’s not the only benefit.
#2. You will see an increase in your basal metabolic rate (6) which will help with weight loss.
Weight gain is obviously a big problem for thyroid patients and this is one simple way to target this problem.
And #3. You will see benefits to vitality, energy levels, and a reduction in fatigue.
This meta-analysis of over 81 studies highlights this perfectly (7):
“Our analysis revealed exercise to decrease the feelings of fatigue by a small effect, increase energy by a small-to-moderate effect, and to increase the feeling of vitality by a moderate effect.”
Vitality is a term used to describe your overall feeling toward life.
The more vitality you have the better.
If you have a thyroid problem, the question is not whether or not you should exercise, but which ones are best?
And the reality is that you can build muscle with a lot of different types of exercises but I do think some are better than others.
Choosing the Right Form of Exercise For Building Muscle Mass
For thyroid patients, I think lightweight resistance training is ideal for muscle building.
Lightweight resistance training just means using lighter weights for more repetitions and can be differentiated from heavy resistance training.
Lightweight resistance training is great because it helps keep your heart rate in the right zone which provides additional benefits to your thyroid (8) and still has a stimulating effect on muscle growth.
In a perfect world, you would undergo lightweight resistance training 3 to 5 times per week for 20 to 30 minutes.
If you can do this consistently while increasing protein intake and reducing carbohydrate intake, you will see big benefits to your thyroid in as little as 6 to 8 weeks.
If you don’t believe me, give it a try and report back here.
If you have a thyroid problem and you are trying to lose weight then I’d recommend checking out this article next.
It discusses the most common mistakes that thyroid patients make when trying to lose weight.
Focusing on building more muscle mass may be one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve thyroid function.
Doing it the right way requires a combination of dietary changes and exercise which also provide additional benefits to your entire body.
Contrary to what most people believe, you aren’t accidentally going to create too much muscle, so there’s really no reason not to take advantage of this treatment.
Now I want to hear from you:
Did you know there was a connection between thyroid health and muscle mass?
Have you spent any time trying to increase your muscle mass?
Are you going to change that after reading this article?
Why or why not?
Leave your questions or comments below!