True or false: Muscle weighs more than fat

Joyce stepped on her bathroom scale and discovered she had gained another pound.  How could this be? She was trying to eat better and had started a walking program three days a week. Frustrated, she shared her news with her walking partner. Her partner consoled her frustration with the statement, “It’s OK, Joyce. You’ve been walking with me. You’ve probably gained muscle. Everyone knows that muscle weighs more than fat.”

True or false? FALSE. Muscle does not “weigh” more than fat. A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat. Both weigh one pound. Yet, the difference is better defined by volume. Muscle is denser and therefore takes up less space than fat. Think of it this way:  A one pound rock would easily fit in the palm of your hand. One pound of cotton balls would fill a grocery bag. Do they weigh differently? No. Do they take up different amounts of space? Yes.

A scale will never tell the whole picture of your body composition. A scale cannot tell that you are losing fat and gaining muscle because of a healthy eating plan and exercise routine. The ratio of body fat to lean body mass is called your body composition.  If a person only has a small amount of weight to lose (let’s say 10 pounds), and she has added strength training exercises to her fitness plan, she may notice that the scale does not reflect a lower number even through looking thinner and more toned. This person would notice looser clothing, more muscle definition, and a decrease in inches around the hips, waist, chest or thighs.

When all of these factors come together, there is a higher likelihood of decreased body fat and increased muscle mass with little to no change in actual scale weight. However, if a person has more weight to lose (let’s say 30 pounds) and they consistently eat healthfully and exercise with both aerobic and strength training exercises, they should see both a decrease in inches and a decrease in scale weight.

In either case, if the scale is reading a higher weight and clothes are not looser, it is most likely that stricter attention is needed to what it being eaten and exactly how much exercise is really occurring. It could be that more calories are being consumed because of an increase in activity. It could also be that the body is storing additional fluid weight. Continue to eat healthfully and exercise. Reap the benefits of a stronger, healthier body. Then, with time and consistency, weight change will occur.

Branda Polk, B.S. Exercise Science, is a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, conference speaker and health writer in Lebanon, Tennessee.

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