Does muscle weigh more than fat? Weight loss myth, busted – Insider
Many people who are on a weight loss journey track their progress by the numbers on a scale. Even though you probably know exercise is beneficial, you might be skeptical of adding extra pounds of muscle, as it may seem that it would only cause you to gain more weight.
But it’s more complicated than that. In fact, building muscle may actually help you lose weight in the long run. Here’s why.
Muscle is denser than fat, says Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon who is the medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
That means any given amount of muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat. But that doesn’t mean a person with more muscle will always be bulkier or even weigh more than they might otherwise.
Because of the difference in density, a pound of muscle will take up less space than a pound of fat. You would weigh the same if you gained a pound of muscle or a pound of fat, but a pound of muscle would make you appear slimmer — and it would be much healthier for your body.
“If you build a lot of muscle, it doesn’t encroach on your organs. It’s on the surface of the skeleton itself, whereas if you deposit a lot of fat, it can be more noticeable, as well as deposit on organs inside the belly,” says Ali.
Muscle and fat serve different purposes for your body:
Muscle helps your body move, primarily within the skeletal system, by attaching to tendons, bones, joints, and ligaments. Having muscle is very beneficial because it helps you burn more calories and it aids in the maintenance of bones and other organs in the body, Ali says.
Additionally, muscle affects your metabolism. Ali says muscle has a higher metabolic rate than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when you are at rest.
The ratio of how many calories a pound of muscle burns versus how many calories a pound of fat burns is almost two to one, Ali says. For example, over an hour at rest, a pound of muscle may burn 50 calories whereas a pound of fat would burn roughly 20 calories.
Important: Building muscle can actually be helpful for weight loss because you will increase your resting metabolic rate and burn more calories even when you’re not active.
Fat mainly serves as a fuel reserve in your body, Ali says. It also keeps the body warm and helps to protect your organs.
However, there are risks of having too much fat. Ali says that excess fat can deposit on your organs, which can negatively affect their function.
Measurements like body fat percentage can be a good indicator of your overall health. Ali says that too high of a body fat percentage increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Taking steps to build and maintain muscle mass is one of the most important ways to benefit your health over time. You can do this by incorporating a few simple dietary changes and exercise routines into your daily life.
According to Ali, here are some tips for building muscle effectively:
Muscle does technically weigh more than fat, but muscle is better for your health. Having a higher percentage of body fat puts you at greater risk for health conditions, whereas having more muscle is beneficial for your health and helps you burn more calories.
If you’re having trouble losing weight and building muscle, talk to your doctor.
Correction: October 4, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misstated the differences in weight between muscle and fat. A given amount of muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat because of its higher density.
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