Fitness Quest: The Consequence of Measuring Muscle Mass

So, in my constant quest for greater fitness I thought it might be fun to engage a couple friends in a challenge to see who could lose the most body fat in the next few months (by the start of spring).  I decided that I should switch out my trusty Tanita scale that I’ve been using for some years with a Taylor scale that I’ve also been using on and off (to paraphrase that old saying: a man with one scale knows how much he weighs, a man with two is never sure). The reason being because though both scales measure body fat percentage – and are pretty close in their measurement – the Taylor scale has a few more

The Tanita and Taylor scales – both good

features including a calculation of hydration and muscle mass, all of which are uploadable into an app for easy tracking. For the challenge we have decided to use waist/hip ratio as our measurement tool, but I thought I’d follow my progress on the scales, too. Since I do weigh myself everyday anyway.

The “new” scale works nicely and as I said the body fat percentage corroborates with the other scale. But, today I took note of the other measurements. Fat mass was where I expected at about 25% (needs to be under 20), body water at 59% – a little dehydrated which isn’t surprising since my colon isn’t there absorbing water anymore since my ileostomy – and my muscle mass was at just over 30%. Now, you’ll notice that these percentages added together total more than 100%. I haven’t found it in the documentation yet, but I suspect that the body water figure is independent of the other two and is calculated off the remaining body mass (organs and skeleton). So, based on these readings my body is a little over half fat and muscle. So far so good right?

Well, I then wondered how my muscle mass compared with the average guy – you know, because we guys are all about measurements and comparisons with other men (to prove we’re better). Since I’ve been working out I’ve always assumed that I had more muscle

buff dave
Me during my “glory” days

mass than most men. I know that my arms are larger, even now in their “depleted” state (a little over 15″ in circumference compared to the average untrained American male who is around 11″) they do flex and do not jiggle when I move them. I once benched 350 pounds and still am capable (I think) of a one time max of more than my bodyweight. Good for anyone, great for a man of my “advanced” years. Plus, you know, I have done squats in the past, too keeping my lower body pretty fit – even with too much fat around the hips (you should see the definition in my “marching band” calves).

So off to Google I go and search for “how much muscle does the average man have” and imagine my surprise to find out that according to my scale I not only have less muscle than the average man (about 60 pounds compared to’s average of 72 pounds).  I thought, “okay, but surely my percentage is higher.” Nope…


Not only am I low for the average man, I’m low for a man my age and older! How is this possible? I was only in the hospital for a week and recovery for six weeks. Can muscle mass be lost that quickly?

Now, I did come out of the hospital 20 pounds lighter than I went in. This would equate to a loss of about 2 pounds a day for my 10 day stay, but most of the weight loss was early. I never figured out why it was so much, as I doubt that a meter of intestine (the full length of my ileum) weighs that much since it’s essentially a hollow tube of muscle and skin. Maybe it was because of all the stuff that was leaking into my abdomen was no longer there, a lot probably water weight, and maybe an incidental “liposuction” when they cut through the fat and muscle to get to my innards. I just didn’t know. However, I felt that when I cam out that my chest and shoulders had disappeared on me. Could I

Me in hospital
Me shortly after surgery in August 2018

really have lost that much muscle that quickly? Or is my scale wrong. Did one operation undo 30 years of weightlifting and bodybuilding?

I think it will be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next few weeks and months as I continue into my workout routine. I will admit that I wasn’t doing a lot prior to the operation but I was lifting twice a week and getting in some cardio. Plus, there was the cardio rehab I had just finished earlier in the late spring. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing, but we all know that as we get older we don’t bounce back as quickly as we did before.

In fact, most studies indicate that as we age we lose a significant amount of muscle with some, if I recall correctly, suggesting men lose as much as 10% of their muscle mass for each decade after 40 (or earlier). Most studies also suggest that this loss is as much due to inactivity as anything as we tend to move less as we get older and that working out becomes less of a priority when family and career get involved (thus the rise of the so-called “Dad Bod” someone with some muscle on them but it’s covered in a layer of fat).

However, there are also studies that suggest that this muscle loss can be slowed if not completely reversed. That, contrary to popular belief, even people in their eighties and nineties can gain muscle. Maybe not as fast as in our youth, but gains can be made. In fact, I feel that I was at my strongest in my mid to late forties. Not necessarily my fittest, just my strongest.

Which bring ups an interesting tangent. I had a conversation recently with a young man who I’ve befriended at work. He’s a bodybuilder (though I don’t think he would consider himself one since he lifts primarily for “fun,” but I’ve seen his before pictures and he’s clearly a bodybuilder) and he asked me an interesting question: “do you know how men keep getting stronger as they get older?” I replied that I had noticed the same thing myself, stating that many bodybuilders seem to hit their prime in their thirties and how I felt I gained strength well into my forties. But he then said, “no, do you know HOW men keep getting stronger?” and I indicated that I wasn’t sure, perhaps the body doesn’t actually fully mature until a man is in his twenties or later.

Now, I think I can answer that question a little better. Men who keep getting stronger as they age also don’t give up. They stay focused on being a little better each day, at lifting a little more, running a litter farther.

Basically, men get stronger as they age because they think they can.

I think that I can, too. The best is yet to come.


Body Image and Men Through the Decades – A Super Problem?

Many articles have been written about how women are faced constantly by unrealistic body images and that this causes issues for girls growing up. I think that there is a lot of validity to this argument and one only needs to look as far as the Barbie aisle of the local department store to see how early these expectations are planted in little girl’s minds.

But, I don’t think that much has been written about the same issue for boys and young men. Over the past century the expectation for men to be not only fit but very well built has increased incredibly. Check out any gym today and you’ll find plenty of guys working their abs until they drop, making sure that their biceps and triceps pop – but not so much the thighs. I was, for better or for worse,  brought up in an age before muscles were not only encouraged, but expected. I often like to joke that I went to high school before abs were discovered.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that the pressure and expectations on boys and young men is less than on girls – and certainly not as overtly sexual – but it is there.

To illustrate my point let’s take a look at some images of everyone’s favorite Man of Steel over the past 75 years or so…by the way, all images and trademarks I’m sure are property of DC Entertainment and are used here only for educational purposes and I found them using Google anyway…(hopefully, this is enough to keep the lawyers away).

Superman Early
Superman as illustrated in the late thirties and forties.

The image at the left shows Superman as he appeared shortly after he was introduced to the world by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933. Even at this point he was portrayed as an athletic figure with broad shoulders and a thin waist. His pecs are evident and there is the suggestion of abs, but no six pack. He gives the impression of strength without bulk.  In fact, I’m sure many a farm boy and laborer looked like this (but who could tell under the baggy shirts and pants?). But not the average kid who was reading the books (back then comics were read almost exclusively by 10-12 year old boys).  This was a physique that most of the boys reading  could obtain with a good diet and some basic exercises and realistically aspire too.






Superman - Wayne Boring 1950s
Wayne Boring’s Superman in the fifties.

Now let’s jump ahead into the fifties and sixties. Superman has clearly packed on some mass. This is the image a lot of people think of when they think of Superman even today. As illustrated by Wayne Boring, Superman took the form of a powerlifter. His abs are more defined, sure, but look at that barrel chest and torso. This was the image of strength in post-war America. Pure brawn without too much concern over aesthetics (at least by today’s standards). Though his chest and torso are big, his arms and legs are relatively scrawny compared to any modern bodybuilder (and even to bodybuilders of the day). Again, the physique that I image a lot of hard working construction men or guys on the loading dock might have had. Again, the boys reading the comic could realistically aspire to this physique.


Superman Kryptonite No More
Superman – Kryptonite No More!


Now onto the seventies and things are starting to change more rapidly. To keep up with the changing expectation of what was considered muscular and super-heroic Superman finally gets honest to gosh abs. His delts are much larger and his chest to waist ratio is beginning to look more like a top level bodybuilder/athlete. Legs are still a bit thin, but now they are defined. Clearly, this Man of Steel has been hitting the gym in his Fortress of Solitude! The bar, as they say, has been raised for boys reading the comic. By the way, the age of comic book readers starts to go up during this period. Now teens are reading. Gawky, skinny, self-conscious teens who are more likely to have body image issues.




Superman John Byrne
Superman in the eighties by John Byrne.



In the eighties Superman got a major make over by John Byrne both artistically and story wise. Overall, I approved of most of Mr. Byrne’s changes by the way except for his insistence that Lois Lane was a red-head…ugh. Everyone knows that she’s a brunette and preferably with blue/black hair! Anyway, look at the proportion of Superman’s chest to his waist, the size of his arms and even his legs are larger. I think that at this point we have started to move well beyond the type of physique that the average man could obtain without some great genetics and a lot of gym time! The average age of readers continues to rise and now most comics are sold in specialty shops as opposed to the supermarket, drug store, or news stand.




And here we have Superman today (below). This man’s shoulders are positively massive. His legs have caught up to his arms and I think in most drawings he now has an eight pack as six just wasn’t enough. A physique that most men could only realistically obtain if they were born on Krypton.

Now, to be fair, the point of super-heroes is that they appear to be super-heroic (don’t get me started on Batgirl’s bat-boobs and the main wonder about Wonder Woman is how her wonder bra manages the strain). So you want to depict them as larger than life. And perhaps the fact that now comic book readers are typically males aged 20-45, along with a small but growing number of women has influenced the look of the books in general. I get that, but my point here is simply that the expectation of what is super heroic has changed over the years and that this is the type of image that may be affecting the body image of many of our youth today without most of us even realizing it.

What do you think?

Next Up: The physics of Eternia or How Does He-Man stand?

Superman Now
Superman today.