Men's Health

INSIDE THE MUSCLE CELL

WEIGHT WATCHER Cummins in a Bod Pod, which measures body composition, or the percentage of fat and muscle.

ON A SATURDAY MORNING IN A RESEARCH LAB AT

Cal State Fullerton, Andy Galpin, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D., approaches my left quadriceps with a hollow-point needle designed to extract a chunk of muscle tissue. The sensation, he tells me, “will feel like a biopsy.” Since I’ve neverhad a biopsy, telling me the procedure feels like itself is like saying moose tastes like moose; the information is illuminating only if you’re really into ungulate meat. But Galpin, who estimates that he’s been on the sharp end of 40 biopsies over the past dozen years or so, says there’s really no other way to describe it. He’s an associate professor at the Center for Sports Performance at Fullerton and has skin (and flesh) in this game.

For the first few seconds, as Galpin plunges the surgical equivalent of a post-hole digger into my thigh, it feels like a grade-school bully pressing his knuckle into my leg. Then the sensation shifts into reverse as he pulls out. A grad student bandages the quarter-inch hole while Galpin transfers the excised piece of my muscle from the needle to a petri dish. I see the sample up close a few minutes later: four parallel strips of tissue, each perhaps a centimeter long and a millimeter wide. Under a microscope they look like four tuna steaks. Galpin estimates that each microfillet contains at least 500 individual fibers. But they won’t look appetizing for long. After stewing for a week in a special juice called “skinning solution,” the color will disappear, and Galpin will be able to pull single fibers from the translucent mass.

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