Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?

The Burning Question

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “Muscle weighs more than fat”. Well, does it? You may have even said it before without really knowing whether it’s really true. Well, does muscle actually weigh more than fat? The answer to the question is no. That’s because a pound of muscle weighs just as much as a pound of fat. They both weigh one pound!

The 18% Difference

What people really mean when they say this has everything to do with density and nothing to do with literal weight. Muscle tissue is more dense than fat is, not heavier. That just means that if you were to look at a pound of fat next to a pound of muscle, the muscle would take up less space. As a matter of fact, muscle tissue is 18% more dense than fat. This is the reason that two people with the same weight and height can look very different. It’s all because of body composition.

The 150 Pound Person Example

If one person’s 150 pounds is 30% fat (45 pounds of fat) vs. the other person’s 10% fat (15 pounds of fat), then the first guy will look much heavier than the other. This is also a reason that it’s more important to pay attention to body composition and inches lost than pounds lost. Here’s how the scale can fool you into thinking you’re losing fat.

Why All Weight Loss Isn’t Good

Let’s take the example of the person weighing 150 pounds with 30% body fat. Let’s suppose she’s a woman that decides to go on a fast to lose weight quickly. She severely restricts her calories to the point of near starvation for a week and loses 6 pounds. She steps on the scale, sees a smaller number and rejoices at her apparent weight loss success. But it’s not as it appears. For in fact, she didn’t lose fat at all. Here’s what really happened.

How the Scale Can Deceive You

What she lost was water and muscle, two of the very things she needs to help her get and stay slim. When the body doesn’t get enough calories, it conserves fat and breaks down muscle tissue to use a a protein source since you aren’t eating any. Yes, your body can and will eat itself. Further, the rest of the weight loss was only water that will be added back on as soon as she eats and drinks normally again. So it would seem that all is well at this point, right? Wrong!

Don’t Hurt Your Metabolism

When she gains the weight back, it will be in water and fat. Her muscle is now lost unless and until she does resistance training to get it back. This is devastating to her metabolism, since muscle tissue is highly metabolically active. So now, she weighs the same but looks fatter since the muscle was replace with fat. Also, her metabolism is slower than before which will make it that much harder to lose weight in the future. Get the picture?

The Moral of the Story

Use the example of this woman to understand that weight loss alone shouldn’t be your goal. What’s most important for looks and health is body composition. Watch how your clothes fit. Take measurements of your waist, arms, hips and thighs to get a more accurate picture of fat loss. It’s better to lose two pounds of fat than ten pounds of water and muscle. While it may feel good to say that you lost lots of pounds, you now know that all weight loss isn’t created equal.