How many times have you stepped on a scale expecting the number to be lower than last time, only to find your weight hadn't changed or that you'd only dropped half a pound? You probably get frustrated and believe the fitness gods are against you. You're putting in the work but the scale isn’t showing it and this is where the battle of all battles face off, it's the Muscle v. Fat showdown!
You tell your friends and family. Then someone says, “Well, you know, a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat.”
So you chalk it up to that and let it go... until you realize that doesn’t sound right. How can a pound of muscle weigh more than a pound of fat? Wouldn’t a pound of anything still be a pound?
This is where misunderstandings happen, because believe it or not, the title of this article is correct: Muscle does weigh more than fat. That just doesn't mean what you think, because the difference between muscle v. fat is more complex than most people realize.
Let’s back up a little and break this down for clarity. The goal here is to eliminate confusion so you can spread more knowledge to your friends and family. Here's a story you can possibly relate to or may even have experienced yourself on your weight-loss journey.
Let’s follow Adriana on her journey through strength training for women. Her background is in normal running. She doesn't run marathons or cross-country, just recreational to stay skinny and attractive. But she's heard about the benefits of having more muscle than fat, so she decides to join a gym.
Adriana starts weight training for women with various exercises that work different parts of her body, including parts she's never worked before. Since she's new to strength training, her muscles get stronger, her skin gets tighter, and her body grows more toned.
She starts losing weight and she loves it. Her clothes start fitting better, fat starts disappearing from her body, and she can see the definition in her muscles. Even the exercises are getting easier. She continues working hard for a few more weeks... but then she notices something: her weight is not changing anymore. She starts panicking...
"Is it because I’ve been eating more food?"
"Maybe I've hit another plateau. Should I change things up?"
"Should I detox or cleanse? That might flush more weight off!"
And then the worst happens: she starts blaming herself and giving in to self-limiting beliefs and doubts. She decides to quit before she reaches her full potential and the muscle v. fat battle claims another victim.
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Does this story sound familiar? Is this something you've experienced? If so, you're not alone.
If there's one thing I've seen many times on this fitness journey with my students, it's their strange relationship with the scale. It's a tricky little bastard; ask anyone who's ever had to weigh in for a sporting competition or the military before a biannual fitness test.
This machine causes a lot of stress. For some reason, people use its simple number as some sort of “title”. It's how they define themselves. (When I say "simple number", I’m referring to athletes, not everyday people.)
If you're caught in the habit of checking your weight every day—even multiple times a day—I'd recommend setting a small goal for yourself and not stepping on the scale for one week. Work your ass off first, then see what the scale says a week later.
But the thing is the scale only gives you one unit of measurement: the amount of force gravity is exerting on your current weight. If you haven’t gone to the bathroom yet or you just drank more water than usual, you will be heavier. If you skipped a couple of meals or dehydrated yourself, you will be lighter. Either way, it's not a full picture of your health.
Aside from not being an accurate way to measure your health, the scale can't tell you what's actually happening in your body. A scale can't measure the amount of fat in your internal organs nor the difference between fat mass and fat-free mass in your body composition (more on this later).
This is where all the confusion comes from. If a pound of fat and a pound of muscle both weigh the same, how are there obese people and fit people? We all come in different shapes and sizes. To illustrate this point, look at the image below:
This image appeared on social media earlier this year. As you can see, all these women weigh the same, yet they're all different sizes. They're all at different points in their lives and they've all grown up differently.
So how can they all look so different yet weigh the same? Is it the height differences? Do some have “bigger bones” than the others? Or could it be something else... like muscle?Perhaps you've seen this image of muscle v. fat side by side:
So what's going on here? They both weigh exactly the same, so why does one seem three times as big as the other? It's because of muscle density, that is, how compact your muscles are inside your body.
The difference in size between equal weights of muscle v. fat is what causes a lot of confusion. The number on the scale doesn't reflect what's actually happening inside your body.
Which brings us back to body composition. What is fat mass and what is fat-free mass? We all know that a certain amount of fat is essential. The issue is when excess fat is stored around internal organs (visceral). This is what causes so many health problems and deaths. But more often, we're concerned with getting rid of the fat under our skin (subcutaneous), which is technically just a body insulator.
Fat-free mass, on the other hand, is made of muscle, bone, essential fats, tendons, and fluids. Basically, everything that's not fat.
Also note that there's a huge difference between the cells and tissue of fat and muscle. They're formed by separate processes, so contrary to popular belief, one cannot turn into the other.
One recently proven way to lose fat is by exhaling it as carbon dioxide when you burn it off. As for muscles, you can never lose them. They might atrophy if you don't stimulate them, but they never go away (thanks, muscle memory).
So please stop spreading the myth that fat turns into muscle! It's simply not possible! (*steps off soapbox*)
As ridiculous as it might sound, the scale really isn't that important when it comes to measuring your body composition. There are far better ways to determine your health than this one number.
Of course, you shouldn't stop setting goals for yourself; knowing how much you want to weigh is a great starting point. But throughout your weight loss journey, I urge you to put the scale aside. Instead, I would recommend you take photos and measurements of your neck, arms, waist, and legs and monitor those measurements at least once a month.
If you want to take it to the next level, you can use body fat scanners or water tanks. Not that they're recommended, but there are plenty of high-tech ways to accurately measure your body fat percentage and get a better idea of your health.
I hope this article has helped clear up your confusion over this tricky subject. All the information, misinformation, and rumors out there today about muscle v. fat can be daunting, but don't let them get to you!
If you define yourself by the number on the scale, I beg you to take a step back and re-evaluate what that number really means.
Sometimes we get so caught up on little things that more important things fall aside. We believe we're supposed to reach a certain weight, so we take extreme measures to get there.
Are you aware of how fighters dehydrate themselves to make weight, or how many people suffer from eating disorders because they think they're "too fat"? It's all because we're looking at the wrong measurement!
And it gets worse. Remember what I said about visceral and subcutaneous fat? Guess which one is removed by liposuction. That’s right: good ol' “insulator” fat! So technically, liposuction makes people skinnier, but their internal organs are just as "fat" after surgery as before. It's just a cosmetic procedure; it doesn't address the main problem.
If you're looking to burn more fat (visceral and subcutaneous), I highly recommend combining a good weight training routine at least twice a week with a nice walk that elevates your heart rate at least twice a week.
By combining both routines, you can maximize your fitness. Add in a solid meal plan with a good balance of proteins, carbs, and fats, and not only will you see your clothes fitting better, but you'll also be happier, feel lighter, and have a lot more energy, simply by being stronger.
On top of that, you'll be working out your heart and lungs on your walks, which also burns calories. Overall, it's a great trio that can no longer be ignored. So what are you waiting for? Start your journey to a stronger and healthier you today by Clicking Here!
Are you guilty of letting the scale control your life? Have you ever considered the difference between fat mass and fat-free mass? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and if you know someone who struggles with weight issues, be sure to share this article with them!
Jay Kali AKA, The Strength Architect is the founder of Kali Coaching. He holds certifications as a Specialist in Strength and Conditioning, Certified Fitness Trainer, Online Trainers Academy Graduate, Training For Warriors Level 2 Graduate and is a 300-Certified Yoga Teacher in Power Yoga. He is also an Amazon Bestselling Author in four different categories and has made it his mission to help women create long lasting, healthy lifestyles in just 8 weeks!