Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Fitness MythBusters: Does muscle weigh more than fat?

When the numbers on the scale begin to tip in an unfavorable direction, it is easy to find comfort in the theory that muscle weighs more than fat-especially if you are resistance training.

Fitness MythBusters: Does muscle weigh more than fat?

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One pound of mashed potatoes weighs the same as one pound of raw potatoes. No matter how you slice, scallop or roast it, a pound is a pound.

So why do the weight-watching women of the world preach the misinformed belief that lean muscle weighs more than fat? I find most individuals use this erroneous rationale to soften the blow of the scale. When the numbers on the scale begin to tip in an unfavorable direction, it is easy to find comfort in the theory that muscle weighs more than fat—especially if you are resistance training.

While fat and lean muscle weighs the same pound for pound, their composition varies immensely. Muscle has a leaner appearance due to its high density, whereas free-floating, Jello-like, fatty tissue needs more space to jiggle around, due to its low volume. Hence, someone with a high body-fat percentage will look overweight in comparison to an individual with a high lean tissue percentage.

The best way to illustrate this concept is to use the mashed potatoes analogy. The consistency of mashed potatoes is comparable to lard in your body—lumpy, buttery and visually God-awful in a pair of yoga pants. Contrastingly, raw potatoes are a firmly packed matter, requiring very little room for expansion. In other words, I’d prefer my backside to look like two raw Yukons than two heaps of Country Crock.

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Why strength training is a must for everyone

Now that we have dispelled the myth that muscle weighs more than fat, let’s buff up on why lean muscle is so valuable for sustaining a healthy lifestyle and physique.

Mind Your Muscles: While cardio fitness is essential for shedding unwanted pounds, maintaining a healthy heart and reducing disease, it is also vital to implement a resistance training routine as well. Women fear two things: Wrinkles and Weight Training. I cannot count the number of times I have heard women say, “I would like to weight train, but I don’t want to become bulky.”

Listen up ladies, you won’t turn into the Incredible Hulk from resistance training. It is impossible, unless you are injecting testosterone or growth hormones into your system. A woman with a visible Adam’s apple, Brad Pitt’s jaw line and Helen Hunt’s forehead are often sure signs of a steroid user. Lean tissue is your body’s best ally in that it boosts the metabolism. As women, we are in constant search of the next magic weight loss secret. Put down those cardboard-tasting Atkins cookies, peel off those SPANX and pick up a pair of dumbbells. One pound of muscle burns more calories than one pound of fat. Aim for low weight, high repetition routines to achieve a lean, toned physique.

Where Your Scale Fails: We have already established that most scales do not differentiate between lean and fat weight. So why bother at all? If you are a control freak and a mental breakdown will ensue if you don’t know your weight each morning, then by all means hop on the scale. Otherwise, consider asking your physician or personal trainer where you can be evaluated using a scientific scale. This option allows for an accurate assessment of your body mass index, body fat percentage, weight and suggested calorie intake.

Alternatively, I recommend my clients gage their weight by how their clothes fit, rather than being a slave to the scale. After an arduous workout and a week of banishing decadent delights from our diet, we all like affirmation that our weight has decreased. Do not look to the scale, as it will not always have your best interests at heart. Weighing in can be a real motivation vampire when the numbers don’t reflect the work you have been putting in. Simplify your life. If your skinny jeans fit, or are starting to become baggy, chances are your weight ratio is shifting from fat mass to lean muscle.

You Are What You Eat: The exterior of our body is a direct reflection of what goes into it. If you ingest rubbish, consequently you will look and feel like rubbish. The human body is a machine, requiring the proper maintenance to run sufficiently.

Would you fuel a Rolls Royce with low-grade gasoline? Probably not. Then why would you power your body with low-grade ingredients? Our brains have been trained to focus primarily on body weight, when our true objective should be a healthy body composition. Lean mass refers to the body’s connective tissues, bones and internal organs. Weight training is paramount in increasing lean mass and bone density.

In addition, a diet high in lean protein is an excellent way to transform your figure. Proteins such as chicken, salmon and even Greek yogurt are more challenging for the body to digest, hence causing a higher calorie burn and creating a feeling of fullness longer. After a weight training session, it is crucial to replenish your muscles with protein–rich foods to repair the muscle fibers and promote muscle growth.

It is important to note, do not go overboard on the amount of calories you ingest post-workout. While a protein shake is an excellent and convenient way to refuel the body after an intense workout, be mindful of your calories. The majority of these shakes are weight gain traps, as they are laden with calories, carbohydrates, sugar and additives. Check the nutritional facts on the back of the container. If the calories are anywhere higher than one hundred and fifty, then this is your meal. A protein shake high in calories plus a lunch to follow, will be counter- productive in achieving your weight-loss goals.

Scale back on stressing the details of your weight. Haven’t you heard? Stress kills. It’s time to live your best life, one pound at a time. All your fitness goals can be achieved through the implementation of a well-balanced diet, regular cardio and resistance training program.  

Earn it. 

Ashley Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer, wellness coach and aspiring journalist living in Voorhees, NJ.


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Ellen Casey, MD Physician with Drexel University Sports Medicine
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