Muscle vs fat: what you need to know.

It is common for people that are just starting out on a new weight loss regime to notice that they are not actually losing any weight. This realisation can be a cause for concern. It need not be however. Using purely the number displayed on your scales as a way of telling if you are getting the benefit that you need from your exercise will almost always leave you disappointed.

Many people will find that, despite seeing positive changes in body composition, strength and energy; they see little change in the number on the scales. The reason behind this is simple. When it comes to muscle weight vs. fat weight, muscle weighs more. Muscle is denser than fat, and therefore takes up less volume. Because of this, when you exercise and burn off or turn your fat into muscle; you will see a reduction in size but maybe even a slight increase in overall weight. As discussed in a previous post Body composition, not weight, is the key.

The short story is that if you gain muscle you will also gain weight; this is true for basically everyone, even those who are shedding fat at the same time. The difference in density between muscle and fat is the entire reason for this. One cubic inch of fat will weigh less than one cubic inch of muscle. Muscle can weigh between 15-20% more than fat depending on certain individual factors.

To say blankly that muscle weighs more than fat can be confusing, obviously one pound of fat and one pound of muscle weigh the same. The density is the key. Why is this though?

Muscle is composed of long strands or fibres, which are tightly woven together. Fat, on the other hand, is composed of droplets of differing sizes. These droplets stick together, but, they leave some empty space between them. It is the difference between the amount of empty space that makes the difference in density.

There are of course many other factors, other than just fat and muscle, that contribute to the number on the scale. Your bones and organs both add considerably to your weight. The biggest contributor though, is water weight. Adult humans are roughly 60% water, your weight can fluctuate wildly depending on your hydration level.

At the end of the day, the way you feel about your body is the most important thing. If you notice that your waistline is going down and that you have more strength and energy, then the number on the scales is really not important.

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Written by Jonathan Buckeridge

I have been succeeding at this thing we call life for about 45 minutes now. There will be some errors throughout the journey, but I'm sure it will be fun all the same. I fell over once....that was annoying.

5 comments

  1. The whole “muscle weighs more that fat” argument is one that really annoys me, because 1lb of each will weigh 1lb, but as you rightly point out it is the density that is different. I wish the phrase “muscle is more dense than fat” would catch on instead!
    One of my favourite infographics is a picture that shows 1lb of muscle and 1lb of fat with a biro for scale – it’s an excellent way to see the difference!

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