- True or False: Muscle Weighs More Than Fat
- TRUE OR FALSE : Muscle Weighs More Than Fat
- 7 Stubborn Fitness Myths
- Myth: Muscle “weighs” more than fat.
- Myth: Weight training converts fat to muscle.
- Myth: Lifting heavy weights will cause women to bulk up.
- Myth: You can walk off extra pounds.
- Myth: You’ll burn more fat on an empty stomach.
- Myth: You should do cardio and strength on separate days.
- Myth: Long and slow cardio training burns the most fat.
- A Pound is a Pound: The Difference Between Muscle and Fat
- Does muscle increase weight?
- How much does muscle weigh?
- Does muscle weigh more than fat?
- Muscle vs. fat density: Which one is more dense?
- What’s the difference between a muscle weight vs. fat weight calculator?
- What is the ideal muscle to fat ratio?
- What contributes to the number on the scale?
- 5 lbs of Fat vs. 5 Lbs of Muscle
- 5lbs of Fat vs. 5lbs of Muscle
- Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
- Ask the Dietitian: How Can Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
- MUSCLE VERSUS FAT
- HOW BODY WEIGHT CAN BE DECEIVING
- THE BENEFITS OF BUILDING MUSCLE
- HOW TO MAINTAIN MUSCLE MASS DURING WEIGHT LOSS
- THE BOTTOM LINE
- 1. Muscle weighs more than fat.
- 2. Salt makes you retain water.
- 3. A lack of sleep can affect the scale.
- 4. Remember: It’s just a few weeks.
- How to increase muscle mass and lose body fat
- How to measure body fat
- How to calculate your ideal weight and body fat percentage
- Related posts:
True or False: Muscle Weighs More Than Fat
TRUE OR FALSE : Muscle Weighs More Than Fat
Written by Kanika Kohli | Reviewed by Adiana Castro, MS, RDN, CDN, CLT
This is False! Weight is an objective measurement – one pound equals one pound. On a scale, one pound of muscle is going to weigh the same as one pound of fat – just like one pound of gold is going to weigh the same as one pound of feathers. While one pound of fat and lean muscle weigh the same, their composition varies immensely. Muscle is much denser than fat, which means muscle occupies less space (volume) in the body compared to fat. Muscle has a leaner appearance due to its high density whereas fat occupies more space (volume) in the body. Two people could weight the same but could look very different depending on their body composition – a person with high body-fat percentage versus a person with high lean muscle percentage will be in two different sizes of clothes and health risk.
As we age our body composition changes, we lose muscle mass and our body fat percentage increases – even though we may weigh the same we don’t look or feel the same due to changes in our body composition. However, the good news is that diet and exercise can help attenuate these effects of aging. A diet rich in lean protein (seafood, grass-fed dairy, poultry, lean meats and plant proteins), fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and healthy fats (omega 3 fatty acids, plant oils, nuts, seeds and avocado) along with exercise (resistance and endurance) couple of times a week can help improve body composition.
Healthy Body Fat range (% Body fat) (ACSM)
7 Stubborn Fitness Myths
After diet, there’s nothing more rampant with myths, half-truths, and downright falsehoods than exercise-especially its effect on weight loss. Follow any of this inaccurate advice, and you may wind up wasting time, energy, and money, or even injuring yourself.
No need to bust out a lie detector, though. Jason Greenspan, an ACE (American Council on Exercise)-certified personal trainer and founder of Practical Fitness & Wellness, identified the seven most common, persistent misunderstood notions about fitness-and offered the honest truth to help you build a strong, lean body.
Myth: Muscle “weighs” more than fat.
Reality: A pound is a pound is a pound-unless you’re defying the laws of physics. No substance weighs more then another one unless it actually weighs more. Simply put: One pound of fat weighs the same as one pound of muscle. “The difference is that fat is bulkier than muscle tissue and takes up more space under the skin,” Greenspan says. In fact, one pound of fat is roughly the size of a small grapefruit; one pound of muscle is about the size of a tangerine. But that tangerine is active tissue, meaning that it burns more calories at rest than fat does.
Myth: Weight training converts fat to muscle.
Reality: This is physically impossible, Greenspan says. “Fat and muscle tissue are two completely different substances. Exercise such as strength training will help to build muscle, which encourages fat loss by increasing your resting metabolism so you can burn more calories throughout the day.” To get a lean look, you need to build muscle through weight training while simultaneously losing fat-but one doesn’t magically become the other.
Myth: Lifting heavy weights will cause women to bulk up.
Reality: We just don’t produce enough testosterone, the male sex hormone that spurs muscle growth, to get big, meathead muscles. Lifting weights sometimes gets the blame for adding bulk because if you haven’t yet shed extra body fat, it can give the illusion that you’re getting larger, Greenspan says. But muscle boosts your metabolism, so don’t be afraid of those 20-pound dumbbells (or at the very least, work your way up to them).
Myth: You can walk off extra pounds.
Reality: Although walking is good exercise and most Americans don’t do enough of it, if you want to lose a noticeable amount of weight, it’s not the best method since it’s low intensity and doesn’t burn a lot of calories during or afterward. To substantially shrink your belly and keep it flat, Greenspan says you want an integrated approach of strength training, cardio (preferably intervals), and a calorie-controlled diet. Adding in a few extra miles on your feet daily as one part of an overall weight-loss plan is good and good for your health, but that alone probably won’t lead to significant results on the scale.
Myth: You’ll burn more fat on an empty stomach.
Reality: The body torches about the same amount of flab whether or not you nosh before a workout, Greenspan says. But your body also needs fuel in order to perform at its best, build muscle, and burn calories, so you should always eat something light about 30 to 45 minutes before exercise such as a protein shake, yogurt, or a piece of whole-wheat bread with peanut butter.
Myth: You should do cardio and strength on separate days.
Reality: According to Greenspan, there is no scientific reason to keep the two isolated, and you up your chances of hitting your goal-whether it’s health, strength, or a pants size-by combining them. And then there’s that whole time-saving perk. Greenspan suggests doing a circuit where you alternate between combo exercises (squat to row or press, for example) and short, high-intensity cardio bursts (such as sprinting on the treadmill). Going back and forth like this with minimal rest builds strength and gets your heart rate up even more than a typical half hour on the elliptical or Stairmaster at moderate pace.
Myth: Long and slow cardio training burns the most fat.
Reality: While it’s true that lengthy, slow workouts will use up more fat for energy, they’re not the way to go for fat loss; instead focus on the total calories burned during and after your workout. Ditch devoting 75 mind-numbing minutes to a slow trod on the treadmill, and do interval training or higher-intensity exercise for half-or even a quarter-of that time, which kills more calories at a faster rate and keeps your metabolism revved post-gym sesh.
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A Pound is a Pound: The Difference Between Muscle and Fat
A pound of muscle is no different than a pound of fat, right? They both weigh the same, so does it really matter?
The simple answer is yes, it matters.
Muscle is vital to the functioning of your body. Your heart is a muscle just the same as your bicep is a muscle. While one pound of muscle may weigh the same as one pound of fat, muscle is denser and takes up less space than fat. Muscle oxidizes fat at rest and with exercise. This means that regular exercise can give muscles a boost in fat oxidation making it easier to maintain or lose weight.
Fat is essential. It insulates organs, stores energy, and assists with internal messenger systems. While this may be the case, the percentage of fat that the average human being currently carries with them exceeds the necessary amount for this basic functioning.
To simplify, let’s look at the following:
An individual who weighs 150 lbs. and has high muscle content will look very different than a 150 lb.-individual with a high fat content.
At rest, 10 lbs. of muscle will burn 50 calories while 10 lbs. of fat will burn 20 calories. This may not seem like a big difference, but over the span of a month, the muscle burns 900 more calories than the fat.
So when you get on the scale and you don’t see the number move but you know that you have been eating right and exercising, remember that you are most likely gaining muscle. Sometimes the best thing to do is step away from the scale and focus on how your clothes fit and how your body is changing visually. The scale is not the only sign that change is occurring. You can lose inches without losing weight.
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A Pound of Muscle vs A Pound of Fat
When it comes to a pound of muscle versus a pound of body fat, myths abound. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning it burns more calories when you are at rest, but the level of this activity often is overstated.
- Muscle takes up approximately four-fifths as much space as muscle. Two people may be the same height and weight, but the person with a higher body fat percentage will wear a larger clothing size.
- Since it is denser, muscle does weigh more than fat if you compare same-size portions. Generally, 1 liter of muscle weighs 2.3 lbs, while 1 liter of fat weighs 1.98 lbs.
- Muscle tissue will burn 7 to 10 calories daily per pound, while fat burns 2 to 3 calories daily per pound.
Bottom line, through strength training you can expect to gain 3 to 5 lbs. of muscle mass in three to four months, bringing your net caloric effect to 15 to 30 calories per day.
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Starting on a weight loss journey isn’t easy and it’s normal to get fixated on tracking calories and the number on the scale. Many 8fitters report that they see differences in their body composition, strength and energy, but are disappointed to see the same — or sometimes higher — number on the scale.
Why might this be? The simple answer is that when it comes to muscle weight vs. fat weight, muscle weighs more. Muscle, by nature, is denser and takes up less volume than fat. Our best advice won’t come as a surprise: stick with your meal plan, do regular workouts, and focus less on the scale and more on how you look and feel.
In this article, our 8fit coaches answer your most frequently asked questions about muscle weight and fat weight.
Does muscle increase weight?
Yes. If you gain muscle, you’ll gain weight. This is even true for individuals who shed fat while increasing their strength. Remember that the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. 8fit’s primary workout program consists of strength-building, fat-burning HIIT workouts. As you progress through your individualized workout program, you’ll notice your strength increases as your waistline decreases.
How much does muscle weigh?
This is a question 8fitters often ask. What’s more important to understand here is that muscle is denser than fat. So, one cubic inch of muscle weighs slightly more than one cubic inch of fat. Depending on a number of individual factors, muscle weighs about 15-20% more than fat.
Does muscle weigh more than fat?
One pound of muscle and one pound of fat weigh the same: one pound. The difference is the amount of space they both take up. Like we mentioned above, one cubic inch of muscle weighs more than one cubic inch of fat. But, why? We’ll answer that in the next question.
Muscle vs. fat density: Which one is more dense?
Why does muscle weigh more than fat? It all has to do with density and overall composition. Muscles are made of long fibers tightly woven together. Fat, on the other hand, is composed of different sized droplets and some are more full than others. These droplets stick to each other but leave some empty space in between.
In the image below, you’ll notice that one pound of muscle takes up less space than one pound of fat. This is why you might notice a slimmer waistline but no drastic change on the scale as you begin a new workout or meal plan regime – your body is burning light fat, but building heavier muscles.
What’s the difference between a muscle weight vs. fat weight calculator?
There are a number of ways to calculate body composition, but not every method is easily accessible to everyone. First, some of these tests are quite expensive and also only available at hospitals or special labs. Some of these body composition calculator methods include:
Skin calipers: These devices measure the thickness of skin folds in different areas of the body. The devices are relatively inexpensive, but the margin for error is high because the same areas must be pinched time after time. This test is reliable but needs to be performed by a health professional or kinesiologist.
Bioelectrical impedance: Bioelectrical impedance monitors send small electrical pulses throughout the body and measure how quickly those impulses return — fast return time means more muscle tissue, less fat and a leaner physique. These monitors are affordable, but not always accurate because of variables like hydration levels, meal times and more.
Hydrostatic weighing: Hydrostatic weighing submerges your body in water and calculates the difference between your normal weight and weight under water. While this is an accurate technique, it’s not easy to find a proper hydrostatic weighing facility.
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA): DXA scans can calculate bone density and body composition. Like hydrostatic weighing, this method is extremely accurate, but you might have a hard time finding a facility. You’ll need to book an appointment with a medical professional and pay a pretty penny or two.
Other ways to calculate muscle weight and fat weight include 3D body scans, measurement of total body water and air-displacement plethysmography.
What is the ideal muscle to fat ratio?
To answer this question, we need to know a little more about you. Your ideal muscle to fat ratio depends on your gender, age bracket, activity level and more. Take a look at the American Council on Exercise’s (ACE) breakdown here.
What contributes to the number on the scale?
There’s a lot more than muscle and fat weight contributing to the number you see on the scale. Your bones and organs weigh a bit too. Then, there’s water weight. The adult human body is around 60% water and the number on the scale can fluctuate depending on how hydrated you are.
If you have specific questions about your ideal weight or body fat percentage, consult your primary care physician.
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5 lbs of Fat vs. 5 Lbs of Muscle
5lbs of Fat vs. 5lbs of Muscle
Hands down one of the most impactful pictures within my industry.
You hear it all the time, “muscle weighs more than fat,” or “you can get lean and still have muscle.”
So, is it true?
Muscle is more dense than fat, which means it will take up less space than fat. To be more precise, muscle takes up approximately 4/5ths the space of fat. Since it is denser, muscle does weigh more than fat if you compare same-size portions. 1 liter of muscle weighs 1.06 kg, or 2.3 lbs., while 1 liter of fat weighs .9 kg, or 1.98 lbs. This may vary due to numerous factors including race, being extremely lean, or being extremely obese.
The truth is that muscle will burn 7-10 calories daily per pound. Fat only burns 2-3 calories daily per pound. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the number of calories your body uses when you are at rest, typically accounts for 60 to 75 percent of the calories you burn in a day.
High body fat percentages are associated with raised risk for obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems, gallstones and certain cancers. For optimal health, the best body fat range for women is 14 to 30 percent. For men, it’s 6 to 25 percent. You are considered obese if you are a woman and have more than 30 percent body fat or if you are a man and have 25 percent body fat.
What are you carrying around?
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Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
The classic brain teaser asks, “What weighs more, a ton of bricks or a ton of feathers?” Unfazed by this childish trickery, we would answer that they would weight the same – one ton.
Using the same rationale, could we answer, “Does muscle weigh more than fat?” And this is our question for the day.
Pound versus pound, sure, they would be the same. One pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat.
On the other hand, if you took a square inch of muscle, it would weigh more than a square inch of fat, just like a square foot of bricks would weigh more than a square foot of feather.
This is why my Wii character says I am overweight.
But, this question is commonly aroused when someone steps on the scale, and attempts to determine where the weight is coming from. We might hear, “I weigh this much, because I have a lot of muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat.”
I think we can decipher this brain teaser with a basic understanding of body composition.
Our bodies are composed of many things, including muscle, skin, organs, fat, and bones. Usually, our body composition is broken down as follows:
- Fat Tissue,
- Lean Tissue, mainly muscle, and
Each of these contribute a percentage to your total body weight. They will add up to 100%. For example, what percentage of your body do you think is just fat tissue? 10%? 30%? 60%?
We have big fancy machines that can measure each of these for us. The ‘gold-standard’ is with dual-energy x-ray machines, or DXA, for short. We have one in our lab, so I pulled some random, anonymous scans to illustrate.
This is what a scan looks like . You see it provides an image of the skeleton, and what we call the ‘soft tissue’, which is everything but the skeleton. All this data over here shows how much muscle, fat and bone she has, not only her total body, but for her arms, legs, and trunk.
This particular woman weighs 163.5 pounds. 92.1 pounds of her weight is from lean tissue, which again, is mostly muscle. 66.5 pounds of her weight is fat, which is 40.6% of her total body.
Although there is no nationally recognized standard, women are commonly recommended be around 33% or under for health risks.
For this particular woman, we would recommend that she lose body fat, but not muscle or bone.
Fat is the health concern, especially the fat inside around her organs, which is called visceral fat.
For example, take woman #2 who also weighs 163.5 pounds. However, only 33% of her body weight is fat, which equates to 54.5 pounds. She also has 104 pounds of lean tissue. At the same body weight, she has 12 more pounds of lean mass, and 12 less pounds of fat than woman #1.
Also, notice that she her body fat percentage is not too high, as it is just at the 33% mark.
So, to our original question.
One person could weigh more than the next person, because they have more muscle, but also because they have more fat. This is an issue of body composition.
Stay tuned for the next post using the DXA scans to decode the myth that we weigh more, because we are ‘big boned’.
Ask the Dietitian: How Can Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
Chances are someone told you “muscle weighs more than fat” as an encouraging explanation for why you sometimes gain weight after adding strength training to a fitness routine. It’s also cited as a reason for why some people hit a weight-loss plateau. But a pound of muscle can’t weigh more than a pound of fat, so what’s the deal here?
MUSCLE VERSUS FAT
It’s important to look at the saying “muscle weighs more than fat” in context. It’s not referring to weight, but rather, the difference in density between these two tissue types. Muscle is denser, weighing more per unit of volume compared to fat. Simply put: Muscle takes up less space than fat on any given body frame. This is why fitness enthusiasts like to improve their overall muscle-to-fat ratio rather than focus on their total body weight.
HOW BODY WEIGHT CAN BE DECEIVING
You can actually weigh the same and steadily be gaining body fat over time. Past age 30, muscle loss occurs at 3–5% per decade, accelerating to more than 15% per decade after age 50. Bone, another weighty tissue, also decreases in density due to aging. That’s why experts recommend strength training at least twice per week to help offset aging-related changes.
THE BENEFITS OF BUILDING MUSCLE
- It creates a leaner physique.
Muscle is more compact and holds its shape better than fat.
- It boosts metabolism.
Muscle burns slightly more calories than fat and having more muscle mass is linked to lower insulin resistance since skeletal muscle can take in extra glucose when blood sugar levels are high.
- It improves mobility.
Muscle powers every activity you do, helping you achieve more physical feats.
HOW TO MAINTAIN MUSCLE MASS DURING WEIGHT LOSS
Muscle is denser and may not show up favorably on the scale, but you should strive to preserve — and even build more — muscle as part of your weight-loss plan. Sadly, weight comes off as both fat and muscle. As rule of thumb, one quarter of your weight loss comes from lean (Read: muscle) tissue. You can shift this ratio in your favor by:
- Eating more protein.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, but you can benefit from going higher if you’re cutting calories for weight loss. Research recommends protein intake at 1.25 times the RDA for sedentary individuals and 1.5 times the RDA for active individuals.
- Exercising in addition to improving your diet.
You may know resistance training (aka: weightlifting) helps build and preserve muscle even as you lose weight. Endurance exercise counts, too. Two studies of middle-aged adults found brisk walking for about one hour daily helped preserve more lean muscle mass during weight loss compared to diet-only plans.
- Keeping an eye on your body-fat percentage.
It can be helpful to track progress quantitatively. Body-fat percentage indicates what percent of your total body weight is coming from fat. To get an idea of your number you can use a smart scale. It uses “bioelectrical impedance,” or a stream of electricity, to approximate body-fat percentage.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Don’t be discouraged if you’re putting in the hard work to eat better and exercise more but aren’t seeing much movement on the scale. Body weight paints an incomplete picture of your health and physique. Instead, focus on signs of progress that aren’t just a number on the scale such as how much energy you have, how much farther you can run and how well your clothes fit.
Calm down. Women who lift weights don’t get bulky muscles. Pain is not necessary to achieve gain. A huge time commitment is not required for health and fitness. And what about walking? Is walking all it’s cracked up to be?
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is helping us sort through what we’ve heard about health and fitness — the myths vs. the truth.
Make no mistake, walking gets brownie points. “If anything, walking is probably underrated,” says physiologist and ACE spokesman Richard Cotton.
What’s written about walking does hold water, he says. “If America began to walk even a minimal amount — 30 minutes a day — it would turn around the epidemic of heart disease and obesity.”
But here are the myths:
- Women who lift weights will get bulky muscles. Women don’t have enough testosterone to develop large, bulky muscles, says ACE. Strength training will not cause women to build muscles, although steroids might.
- Spot reducing is possible. Guess again. It’s simply not possible to “burn off” fat in one specific body part by exercising that area, ACE states. Numerous studies have tried to refute this claim. But only regular exercise — aerobic and strength — and a sensible diet can melt body fat.
- No pain, no gain. Yikes. Exercising to the point of pain can harm you, not help. It’s OK to push yourself a bit, to tax your heart, lungs, muscles and bones — but be reasonable. Don’t risk an injury.
- If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want. You’re joking, right? A healthy diet goes hand-in-hand with a sound exercise regimen, ACE states. For weight loss, eat more fruits and veggies, far fewer sugary foods, and EAT LESS.
- Exercise requires a hefty time commitment. As little as 30 minutes a day works when you’re in health-and-fitness maintenance mode, and 60 minutes a day will help you lose weight.
- There’s a magic bullet out there. Yet another joke. There is no quick fix, says ACE. Those nutritional supplements often use “deceptive, misleading, or fraudulent advertising,” ACE advises.
Katie Heimburger, MS, exercise physiologist in Atlanta, adds a few more health and fitness myths to the list:
- Muscle weighs more than fat. “In simple terms, a pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat,” Heimburger tells WebMD. “The difference is that muscle is much more dense than body fat. Therefore, a pound of muscle will take up much less room in your body than a pound of fat. Another benefit of muscle, it is significantly more vascular than body fat and will cause you to burn more calories at rest than body fat.”
- Exercising at low intensity burns more fat. “This is a particularly confusing topic for some people,” says Heimburger. “Many people have thought that lower intensity is the fat-burning zone. But in reality, you’re burning a greater percentage of total calories — including fat calories — when you exercise at a higher intensity.”
What puts health and fitness myths in our minds? It’s those get-skinny-quick product ads, Cotton says. “People want to know what’s the easiest possible way to get from here to there.” When it comes to health and fitness, “there’s no magic bullet.”
No matter what or where you’re celebrating, the holidays are a magical time of year. The eats are extra delicious and usually a touch sentimental (Grandma’s cookie recipe, #FTW), runs are more-often-than-not chilly with a side of red cheeks, and everyone’s in the spirit of giving. One thing that’s not always idyllic? That number on the scale after back-to-back weeks of celebrating all things merry and bright. ‘Tis the season when many freak out a little about excess calories and a shift in regular workout programming.
Not to worry—there are loads of reasons that number on the scale could be on the rise. So as a friendly yearly reminder, here are some expert-backed reasons why you can’t obsess over what the scale says this season.
1. Muscle weighs more than fat.
Yes, you’re eating more than usual. But ask yourself: What’s my workout routine look like at the moment? Remember: Muscle tissue is more dense than fat tissue, which means that yes, it weighs more. Make an effort to think about the bigger picture. How do you feel? Sluggish? Speedy? That should be the first indicator when deciding how to modify your diet or activity.
It’s also worth noting that runners need increased glycogen stores to fuel for longer runs. These “stores,” which are essentially carbohydrates stored as energy in our muscles, can mean extra pounds, both because of the extra water required to break down and store those carbs—and the carbs themselves. The upside is that the fuel (or carbs) you consume during the holidays is just waiting to be used on that next weekend long run. Take advantage of time off from work/school/life and squeeze in a few extra miles or a set of squats, lunges, and push-ups. No matter what the scale says, you’ll feel better.
2. Salt makes you retain water.
I challenge you to think of a savory or sweet holiday treat that doesn’t involve a hearty dose of salt. That’s right, even most of your favorite cookie recipes call for the white stuff. When you eat salt, it’s absorbed into the cells and brings along excess water with it. “The holidays are also a big time for eating out,” says Dennis Cardone, D.O., chief of primary care sports medicine at NYU Langone Health. Which means you may suddenly have a much higher salt intake than when you cook at home, he says. That excess water can show up on the scale as pounds, but it’s much easier to shed excess water than it is fat.
If you’ve overdone it on the salt, reach for a banana (also: spinach, beets, and navy beans). Research shows that potassium-rich foods like these help to counteract sodium’s effects by relaxing blood vessel walls and releasing retained fluid. Then get back on track with home-cooked meals, lots of drinking water, and regular workouts after the holidays.
3. A lack of sleep can affect the scale.
Office parties, family gatherings, late nights singing Christmas songs with your friends— whatever the reason may be why you’re up late and burning the midnight oil, less sleep can have a direct impact on your weight (and your recovery). Research shows that sleep deprivation can alter ghrelin and leptin levels, which stimulate your appetite. Make sure to prioritize shut-eye just as much as you do holiday fun, which could involve making a few sacrifices along the way. Know Thursday is going to be a late night? Don’t schedule an early workout for Friday. Control the controllable, and you can still have your fun, too.
4. Remember: It’s just a few weeks.
You’ve worked all year to get here, so it’s going to be hard to undo it all in a few days. This is just a once-yearly time for tidings and joy, so there’s room for all foods, including all 12 fishes and your Aunt Judy’s Italian tricolor cookies, in a balanced diet. “A lot of people set themselves up for disappointment when they label certain items as bad,” Cardone says. “The big rule around the holiday time is everything in moderation. If someone goes off their general diet or routine and has one or two big meals, it’s not going to make pounds stick around for good—especially if they’re sticking to some sort of exercise routine.”
Cardone suggests that instead of getting caught up in the all-or-nothing mentality, remember how great you feel when you exercise. “Instead of saying ‘I’m not even going to bother to exercise,’ be gracious with yourself. Remember, every little bit counts.”
Emily Abbate Emily Abbate is a freelance writer, certified fitness trainer, and host of the podcast Hurdle.
That initial weight gain is very common, especially among women. “Quite often with my female clients, at first they’ll gain muscle at a faster rate than they lose fat. Their body fat is a bit more stubborn to come off,” says Seedman. Women’s muscle growth usually taper off after the initial gains, Seedman explains, so their weight will even out. On the other hand, men put on muscle more steadily, so they might not notice a spike on the scale at all.
How to increase muscle mass and lose body fat
If you gain weight, remember that you’re likely still looking slimmer. “A lot of people worry that if they gain five pounds of muscle, they’re going to look thick or heavy,” says Seedman. “But because it’s so dense, five pounds of muscle spread over the body doesn’t give a huge size increase. If you lose five pounds of fat and gain five pounds of muscle, you’re losing size,” Seedman explains.
Whether gaining some muscle or frying fat is your goal, strength training is essential—and you should make sure you’re engaging your big muscle groups. “I always recommend choosing exercises that are the most bang for your buck—that use the most muscle tissue and the bigger muscles along with the smaller, accessory muscles,” says Seedman. Some of his favorite strength exercises are rows, presses, lunges, and planks. 90 percent of the strength work you do should be compounds movements like these, he says, as opposed to exercises that hone in on one specific muscle, like biceps curls.
Aim for 30 minutes of strength work three days a week, either on alternating days with cardio or before your cardio workout. “The general rule is you don’t want to do cardio right before strength training because it’ll zap your energy and then your strength training suffers,” says Seedman.
Work your triceps with these at-home exercises:
How to measure body fat
Whatever the number on the scale, the best way to make sure your workouts are doing their job is to measure your body fat. There are several techniques on how to do this. A traditional skin-fold caliper test—where a trainer or kinesiologist pinches your skin with a plastic or metal gadget—is one of best methods. Body fat is often calculated by taking measurements with the caliper at three different sites on your body. For women, it’s on the triceps, suprailiac (the area right below your armpit at the top of your hip bone), and thigh. For men, it’s the chest, abdominals, and thigh.
But Seedman believes that taking a reading from seven different sites is more accurate. “A three-site test isn’t as accurate because everyone stores fat differently,” says Seedman. “Usually there are one or two areas where people hold the most fat.” If one of those areas for you is on the three-site test, your number might seem higher than it actually is.
Another bonus of the seven-site skinfold test: “It can also tell you a bit about your hormones and endocrinology,” says Seedman. For instance, if you tend to hold fat mostly in your lower abdomen, it suggests that your cortisol levels might be up. If triceps are your main fatty area, it could be a sign of a testosterone-estrogen imbalance.
How to calculate your ideal weight and body fat percentage
Although there aren’t any official guidelines for body fat percentage loss, most experts agree that one percent loss every month is safe and doable, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). If you’d like to calculate approximately how much weight you’ll need to lose to achieve your ideal body fat percentage, you can follow this ACE formula: Desired body weight = Lean body weight/(1-desired body fat percentage). Your lean body weight is how many pounds of lean mass you have based on your body fat test, and your desired body fat percentage is your goal body fat in decimal form.
For example, if you weigh 125 pounds and have 25 percent body fat (31.25 pounds fat, 93.75 pounds lean) and your goal is to weigh 100 pounds and have a body fat percentage of 20 percent. You would use this formula:
93.75/(1-.20)= 117.18 pounds
So you would need to lose 8 pounds to reach your goal of weighing 100 pounds. (125-117.18)
These are the general body fat percentage categories for women, according to ACE:
- Essential fat – 10-13%
- Athletes – 14-20 %
- Fitness – 21-24%
- Average – 25-31%
- Obese – 32% and higher
If you’re keeping up with your workouts, your body fat measurements will drop. At the end of the day, it’s the quality of the pound that matters. Muscle is leaner than fat, leading you to drop pant and dress sizes. This is just another example of why you shouldn’t focus on the number on the scale when you’re trying to lose weight.
Laurel Leicht Laurel Leicht is a writer and editor in Brooklyn.