Understanding how Muscle and Fat Impact Body Mass, Weight, and Health

Posted by Dr. Michael White, Updated on April 15th, 2024
Reading Time: 5 minutes


If you've ever tried to diet in your life, which most Americans have, you've probably felt frustration with the weight scale.

You spend two or three weeks working out and eating better only to find that you have just lost a little bit of weight, or perhaps even none at all! Some people even gain a little weight when they start working out. It's important to realize, however, that the scale never tells the whole story of your dieting journey.

Most people are somewhat aware of the concept that muscle weighs more than fat, but don't realize the implications. This fact is actually the biggest reason why people get so frustrated with scales when they start working out for health.

For people that are trying to drop fat and feel better, it may even be better not to use scales at all, and just trust your health regimen and the mirror. One of the many reasons that diets fail is because people focus only on the scale and lose faith in their ability to lose weight.

Muscle Vs. Fat

At first glance, the idea that muscle weighs more than fat might seem a little strange.

Of course, an ounce of fat is going to weigh the same as an ounce of muscle tissue. That's simple physics.

The difference between muscle and fat and how they affect your appearance is about volume and density.

Per pound, body fat takes up more space than muscle. More precisely, fat is 18% less dense than muscle and thus takes up more volume.

When you think about how this affects your body, this means that muscle mass does weigh more than fat, and makes up a higher proportion of your weight per volume.

When you start working out, your body reacts by strengthening your skeletal muscles, which directly leads to an increase in their mass.

This increase in mass can equal or even exceed your loss in body fat, which makes it seem like you aren't getting any results from your diet and workout regimen.

It's important to remember that you don't have to lose weight to improve your muscle-to-fat ratio.

If you are looking at the scale as your sole measure of dieting success, you are bound to get discouraged and fail.

There are three things that you should do if you want to keep accumulating the benefits of exercise and diet over time: Be Patient, Look in the Mirror, and pay attention to How You Feel, not just how you look.

Comparing Muscle to Fat – A Visual Representation

The picture below shows 5 pounds of body fat and 5 pounds of muscle side by side:

image of 5lbs of fat versus 5lbs of muscle

As you can see, muscle takes up far less space than fat.

Furthermore, you can tell that the structure of body fat and muscle also strongly contributes to how they make you look.

Because skeletal muscle is smooth and dense, it not only occupies less space, but it also fills that space in a more aesthetically pleasing way. Body fat naturally looks lumpy and disorganized. It fills up space with little rhyme or reason other than being constrained by the skin.

By merely looking at the two pictures, you can easily see which one you would rather have more of. Muscles are naturally pleasing to the eye, and the impact they have on your appearance is impressive, whereas too much fat simply can make you look like an amorphous blob.

What are the Health Benefits of Maintaining Healthy Muscle Mass?

  • Lower Risk of Diabetes, Blood Sugar Spikes, and Increased Insulin
  • Sensitivity
  • Enhanced Metabolism
  • Improved Aerobic Capacity
  • Less Fatigue and More Energy
  • Improved Self-Perception
  • Better Balance and Range of Motion
  • More Strength
  • Aesthetically Pleasing Muscles
  • Lower Risk of Injury

How Can I Increase My Metabolism?

One pound of fat is the equivalent of 3,500 calories of stored energy that your body can use but doesn't need.

There are two ways to get rid of that weight, and they both have to do with your basal metabolic rate. Basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories your body burns when at rest. If you intake fewer calories than you burn in a day, you lose weight.

If you exercise to increase your calories burned, you can also lose weight. Of course, the best course of action is to combine both to maximize weight loss and the health benefits of your decisions.

Your body releases most pent-up fat energy as respiration, and around 14% of fat is evacuated through sweat and urination.

Building muscle mass, in the long run, helps you burn body fat even without dieting because larger muscles burn more energy even when at rest. This increases your Basal Metabolic Rate and makes it even easier to burn calories through diet and exercise.

Fat burns calories as well, but at a much slower rate. Fat will burn two calories every hour, whereas muscle will burn six calories every hour. That means that pound for pound, muscle has triple the calorie-burning power of fat, even at rest.

Over the course of a day, one pound of muscle will metabolize 94 more calories than the same amount of fat. It's clear to see how much of an impact that weight lifting can have on your weight loss regimen. For patients on or considering Low-T Treatment with Testosterone, these benefits are amplified even further!

Don't Worry About the Scale!

It may seem like a good idea to keep track of the scale when trying to lose weight. Most people think that keeping regular tabs on their weight loss progress will help, but in fact, it's just as likely, or even more likely, to make you more likely to give up.

This is because burning up body fat is more important than losing weight, and increasing muscle mass will cause you to lose weight slower than you think that you should. It's better just to throw your scale away.

Just trust your eyes and your long-term plans and goals, and you're far more likely to see success!

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