Sep 30, 2011

So I Hear that Muscle Weighs More than Fat

By Juliann Boubel

For the weight-loss client, watching the numbers on the scale plummet with a new nutrition plan and exercise regime is exciting and motivating. Energy increases, cholesterol levels may drop, old outfits start to loosely fit once more… Sometimes, however, the numbers start to slow down and peeling the pounds away starts to feel like scraping paint off the wall. Well, take heart! This article is for you. Did you know that adding muscle mass can throw the scale numbers into a funk? The reason is because it’s true; muscle does in fact way more than fat. In fact, muscle is about 15% denser than fat, and that can be a great aide in goal achievement!1
    While increased muscle mass might feel like it is slowing your progress path, take a second to consider what is actually happening physiologically. While muscle may weigh more, it is also denser and leaner. Not only is it more compact per pound, but a pound of muscle at rest burns almost 3 times more calories per day than the same amount of fat (28.6kcal/lb verses 10kcal/lb).2, 3 Even while you sit and read this article, that increase in muscle equals increased metabolism—which aides in burning up those excess pounds! Thus the reasoning behind the thinner, more svelte you continuing to shimmy into a smaller pant size.

Well if I’m not losing weight anymore, should I keep gaining muscle?

Well, what are your ultimate goals? If your goal is to just lose overall weight, maybe your exercise regime needs a revamp and should include lighter weights and more repetitions to lengthen muscles and maintain strength. However, if your ultimate goal is to increase overall health, lower triglyceride levels or fit into your college-sized jeans, then you might want to keep right on chugging. The numbers on a scale are just one way of tracking progress after all, so why not consider a better option like body composition testing. Having your body composition assessed reveals percent and poundage of body fat and fat free mass (FFM) in a person. FFM includes any matter in your body other than fat and an increase in this number indicates lean muscle gain.4 Frequent body composition assessments help to track muscle gain or maintenance and overall fat loss. Clients are constantly shocked when they find that their “scale” weight has not changed, but the body composition reveals that they have lost 5 pounds of fat and gained 5 pounds of muscle (and, thus, an increased metabolism!).

Is calculating my BMI a good way to track weight loss??

While charting your Body Mass Index (BMI) can be helpful for some, lean muscle mass can throw numbers off for others. Since the BMI scale is derived from a height-to-weight ratio, a 5’5” woman at 168lbs falls into the “overweight” category when she only has a body fat of 20%.  According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Training Journal, 20% classifies her as an athlete in the mid-to-low body fat range.5 The confusion about a healthy weight and muscle mass that can stem from the BMI scale is why body composition testing is a great alternative to support clients in clear numerical tracking.

Where can I get my body composition assessed?

Did you know Prevail Conditioning has an in-house measuring system? We are happy to provide this free service to all of our clients weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. These tests are private, quick and confidential, so ask your trainer or group exercise instructor for a body composition test. We are more than willing to set up an appointment and then help sort through any nutrition hurdles you might still be having! Why not increase your motivation and attitude as you continue to work towards or maintain your wellness aspirations? Stepping away from the scale might be just what you need to succeed in your personal health vision!

1 Urbancheka M, Pickenb E, Kaliainenc L, Kuzon W (2001). "Specific Force Deficit in Skeletal Muscles of Old Rats Is Partially Explained by the Existence of Denervated Muscle Fibers". The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 56:B191-B197.

2 Farvid, MS; Ng, TW; Chan, DC; Barrett, PH; Watts, GF (2005). "Association of adiponectin and resistin with adipose tissue compartments, insulin resistance and dyslipidaemia". Diabetes, obesity & metabolism 7 (4): 406–13.

3 Heymsfield, SB; Gallagher, D; Kotler, DP; Wang, Z; Allison, DB; Heshka, S (January 2002). "Body-size dependence of resting energy expenditure can be attributed to nonenergetic homogeneity of fat-free mass". American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism 282 (1): E132–E138.

4 Drinkwater, Donald, and Alan Martin. "Variability in Measures of Bodyfat: Assumptions or Technique?" Sports Medicine. 11. no. 5 (1991): 1.

5 Weatherwax-Fall, Dawn. "Body Composition and Its Affect on the Sports Performance Spectrum ." NSCA’s Performance Training Journal6 . 7. no. 5 .

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