In the perpetual quest for a better body and improved fitness, it's easy to become a slave to the scale. But the scale doesn't tell the whole story about your body's health or appearance. It's possible to work out regularly and look thinner without losing any weight, because you might be replacing fat with muscle. You're more likely to keep your perspective -- and your sanity -- if you judge your fitness goals according to how you look and feel rather than some idealized number on a scale.
Fat and Muscle
Muscle does not weigh more than fat, but gaining muscle may make you weigh more. For example, if you shed a pound of fat but gain three pounds of muscle, you'll have gained two pounds according to your scale. Thought muscle doesn't weigh more than fat, it is more dense than fat. This means that if you could stack up the fat in your body next to the muscle in your body, the muscle might take up less space, but could weigh the same as, or more than, the fat.
Muscle or Fat?
If you've been working out and have gained weight, it can be tough to tell if it's muscle or fat, particularly in the first few weeks. Get around the confusion by getting a fat caliper or having your doctor do a body fat assessment on you before you begin working out. Then compare your body fat after a few weeks of exercise to your baseline numbers. After a month or two of exercise, though, you should be able to look at your body and tell if you're building muscle, especially if you're doing fat-burning cardio alongside your strength-training routine.
Muscle and Metabolism
Increasing your muscle mass can help you decrease your total body fat because the exercise necessary to build muscle burns calories. Additionally, muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, according to MayoClinic.com. Muscle increases your metabolic rate because it requires more energy to repair and sustain itself. This means that you'll tend to burn more calories all day long if you have a higher muscle percentage.
Protein for Muscle
It's easy to get caught up in dieting yourself into oblivion, but you won't gain healthy muscle tissue without a healthy diet. Protein is the primary building block of muscle, and if you're doing strength training to get sexy muscle lines, you'll need plenty of it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women get 56 grams of protein each day. If you're doing strenuous lifting or an intense workout routine, you might need even more protein than this, so talk to your doctor if your workout routine is particularly grueling.
- Military.com: 5 Steps to See If Your Gains Are Muscle or Fat
- WeightWatchers: Ask the Personal Trainer -- Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protein
- Exercise Physiology; Scott Powers et al.
- MayoClinic.com: Metabolism and Weight Loss -- How You Burn Calories
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.