What causes reduced muscle mass and how to increase muscle mass?

Symptom Database

Reduced muscle mass, also known as muscle loss or muscle wasting, is a common condition that can occur due to various factors. It is characterized by a decrease in the size and strength of muscles, leading to muscle weakness and functional limitations. In this article, we will explore the causes of reduced muscle mass and discuss effective strategies to increase muscle mass.

Causes of Reduced Muscle Mass

There are several factors that can contribute to the loss of muscle mass:

1. Aging

As we age, our bodies naturally undergo changes that can result in a decline in muscle mass. This is known as sarcopenia, and it typically begins around the age of 30. The rate of muscle loss increases with age, and if left unchecked, it can lead to significant muscle decline.

2. Inactivity

Lack of physical activity or a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to muscle loss. When muscles are not regularly used or stimulated, they begin to atrophy, leading to a decrease in muscle mass. This is particularly common in individuals who lead a predominantly desk-bound or inactive lifestyle.

3. Poor Nutrition

A diet lacking in essential nutrients, particularly protein, can contribute to muscle degeneration. Protein is crucial for muscle growth and repair, and inadequate intake can lead to muscle loss. Additionally, deficiencies in vitamins and minerals necessary for muscle function, such as vitamin D and calcium, can also contribute to reduced muscle mass.

4. Chronic Illnesses

Certain chronic illnesses, such as cancer, kidney disease, and HIV/AIDS, can cause muscle wasting. These conditions often result in increased muscle breakdown and decreased muscle protein synthesis, leading to a loss of muscle mass.

5. Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances, such as low testosterone levels in men or imbalances in thyroid hormones, can contribute to muscle loss. Testosterone plays a crucial role in muscle development and maintenance, and a decrease in its levels can lead to diminished muscle mass.

How to Increase Muscle Mass

While reduced muscle mass can be concerning, there are several strategies that can help increase muscle mass:

1. Resistance Training

Engaging in regular resistance training exercises, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, is one of the most effective ways to increase muscle mass. These exercises stimulate muscle growth by causing microscopic damage to muscle fibers, which then repair and grow stronger during the recovery process.

2. Protein-Rich Diet

Consuming an adequate amount of protein is essential for muscle growth. Include lean sources of protein in your diet, such as chicken, fish, tofu, and legumes. Aim for a daily protein intake of around 1.2-2 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on your activity level and goals.

3. Balanced Nutrition

In addition to protein, ensure that your diet includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats to provide your body with the necessary vitamins and minerals for optimal muscle function and growth.

4. Stay Active

Avoid a sedentary lifestyle by incorporating regular physical activity into your routine. Engage in activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling to promote overall muscle health and prevent muscle loss.

5. Get Sufficient Sleep

Quality sleep is crucial for muscle recovery and growth. Aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to optimize muscle mass development.

6. Hormone Replacement Therapy

If hormonal imbalances are contributing to muscle loss, consult with a healthcare professional to explore hormone replacement therapy options. This can help restore hormone levels and promote muscle growth.

7. Manage Chronic Illnesses

If you have a chronic illness that is causing muscle wasting, work closely with your healthcare team to manage the condition effectively. They may recommend specific treatments or therapies to help minimize muscle loss.


Reduced muscle mass can have a significant impact on an individual’s overall health and quality of life. Understanding the causes of muscle loss and implementing strategies to increase muscle mass is essential for maintaining muscle strength and functionality. By incorporating resistance training, consuming a protein-rich diet, staying active, and addressing any underlying health issues, individuals can effectively combat muscle loss and promote muscle growth.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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