Have you ever heard the saying, “Muscle weighs more than fat?” Perhaps at some point in your life you are training hard in the gym in an attempt to lose weight. During this time, you hopped onto the scale weekly, sometimes even daily.
Some days were better than others. Sometimes the numbers on the scale decreased, but to your dismay, this wasn’t always the case. Some weigh-ins showed that the scale read higher than your starting weight. Other days the scale wouldn’t budge.
Depression and sadness slowly crept into your life causing you to want to stop working so hard. To soothe your worries and soften the blow of the scale, perhaps a family member, friend, personal trainer, or doctor told you that you shouldn’t freak out because the scale is showing that there has been a gain in muscle and that “muscle weighs more than fat.” Maybe you relaxed after hearing this. Maybe you were skeptical of this comment.
In the fitness world, the statement, “muscle weighs more than fat” is habitually thrown back and forth. In the context of fitness and recording body weight numbers on scales, the statement “muscle weighs more than fat” does not hold much weight. It just does not make sense because one pound is one pound.
The truth is that when placed on a scale, one pound of fat is going to weigh the same as one pound of muscle – just like one pound of bricks is going to weigh the same as one pound of feathers. Where the confusion comes in is that muscle and fat differ in density (muscle is about 18% more dense than fat) and one pound of muscle occupies less space (volume) than one pound of fat.
So yes, muscle seems to weigh more because there is a difference in the volume between the two. When a cubic inch of muscle and a cubic inch of fat are measured, the cubic inch of muscle will weigh more. As you add compact muscle mass to the body, body weight may increase. However, pound for pound, muscle and fat weigh the same and when tracking progress of a fitness program, it is very important to look at all markers of improvement, and not just the numbers on the scale.
Each pound of fat that your body stores represents 3,500 calories of unused energy. In order to lose one pound, you have to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories by either consuming 3,500 less calories over a period of time than your body needs or by doing 3,500 calories worth of exercise.
By increasing your lean muscle mass through resistance and body weight training, you will help your body burn more calories. One pound of muscle will burn slightly more calories at rest than one pound of fat tissue at rest.
As fitness professional, I do not like to over-emphasize the point that muscle tissue burns more calories than fat. I feel it is an important fact to know, and can be used as a motivator when getting started with a fitness program, but I do not think it should be the primary driving force behind gaining muscle mass. Yes, muscle is three times more metabolically active at rest than fat, but the actual amount of calories that is burned is not a grand amount.
Granted, at the end of the day, any extra calories burned are a great thing, and when you eat healthy and engage in proper exercise, you will increase the amount of muscle in your body.
The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn while at rest and this is exciting.
Overly obsessed with calorie burning through long bouts of cardio, weight training sessions and starvation. The main focus becomes all about decreasing fat, increasing muscle, and expanding the amount of calories muscle will burn at rest. With this extreme approach, overtraining and poor health are often results. More is better, right? …Wrong.
The above behaviors are unhealthy, unbalanced, and unsustainable. I want people to get away from calorie obsession and start training with a balanced approach and with common sense. It is important to look at all of the health benefits of muscle mass, not just one.
In my opinion, knowing that muscle can help balance insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels within the body is of greater interest than one pound of muscle burning an extra four calories more than one pound of fat.
While participating in a “weight loss” program, solely depending on a standard body weight scale to track your progress can cause frustration and may even set you up for failure.
I can confidently assume that many of you reading this article know exactly what I am talking about. We all have been there at some point.
It is that all too familiar feeling of anticipation you experience while you are standing on top of the scale, looking down, waiting to see what the wonderful magical number will read, anxious for it to be lower than the last time you stood in the very same position. The number flashes in front of your eyes, it reads the same, as if the scale was frozen in time. You shake the scale, reset it, step on and do the whole process over, only to find the end result is the same. The number has not shifted, not even a fraction of a pound.
If you are experiencing this type of despair, I suggest that you step far away from the scale (put the scale out of sight) and shake off the dissatisfaction you are feeling and think for a minute. Assess all that you have been doing and consider all of the other methods you have used and should be using to track your weight loss journey and progress.
When the number on the scale does not budge, it is important to remind yourself that the scale only shows you a snippet of what is happening. It is only expressing your total body weight – which includes fat, muscle, bones, organs, skin, etc. and not the composition of that weight within your body.
Your total body weight represented on the scale may be the same as when you started your weight loss program, BUT if you are building muscle mass and losing fat tissue, your body composition will be much different.
When you have more muscle and less fat, you become firmer and will lose inches from places such as your waist, hips, buttocks, thighs, etc. Seeing the same number on the scale is not always negative. Again, we need to set our minds on other indicators of health and wellness.
This is why it is important to use more than one method to track your progress.
Some of these methods include:
When you put all of these assessments together, you will create an accurate picture of what is truly happening within the body. By using this data, you will be able to distinguish whether or not you are on the right track with your health and fitness training programs.
So my top tips for this week are:
For more information on my healthy eating and exercise plans contact me through my web site nonevans.com