The Truth About Muscle
It’s true – fat and lean muscle weigh the same pound for pound, but their composition is completely different. Muscle has a leaner, tighter appearance because it is very dense. Conversely, fatty tissue is less dense and needs more space to jiggle around.
A 155 pound woman with a 30% body-fat percentage will be more flabby than a 155 pound woman with a 20% body-fat percentage simply because the second woman has a higher percentage of lean muscle in her body (80% vs. 70%). Since muscle is more dense and actually takes up less space, the 20% BF woman will look smaller and tighter than the woman with a 30% BF percentage (70% muscle) even at the same weight.
To Thine Own Self Be True
Let’s keep it real shall we? The whole “muscle weighs more than fat” thing typically comes up in a certain uncomfortable situation – when the scale begins to creep up, it’s easy to find comfort in this myth. It softens the blow, makes us (or the individual we are trying to console) feel better, and relieves us from the responsibility of figuring out what we need to change. But since my job is to keep you “on point”, let’s get to the bottom of this issue.
If the scale is tipping up, most likely one or more things are in play:
1. Your ratio of cardio to strength/resistance training is off.
2. You’re eating the wrong foods OR the right foods in the wrong portions.
3. Your hormones are out of whack because you are A) not sleeping well or B) are under a great deal of stress.
I’ll address each of these in more detail in future posts, but for now, know this:
A few days ago, I was listening to “Wellness Wednesday” on the radio. A very high-profile gospel artist and health and fitness advocate was trying to help a listener that wanted to lose 50 pounds. Initially, her advice was sound. She encouraged the listener to eat a diet based in lean proteins, healthy fats (yes, there is such a thing) and fruits and vegetables. Then, when the conversation shifted to recommending an exercise regimen, the train came off the tracks! The artist-turned-advocate encouraged the woman to focus solely on cardio for two months because strength training builds muscle and “muscle weighs more than fat.” Everything in me was screaming “noooooooooooo!” I thought about calling into the show but decided to vent my frustrations here :).
While I appreciate this gospel legend using her platform to inspire others to lead a healthier lifestyle, it is critically important that we get our facts straight. Misinformation, no matter how well intended, often does more harm than good. Allow me to explain why this artist (and every other person that has perpetuated this myth) is well meaning but DEAD WRONG!
We Have Standards
First off, the whole point of having a metric system is to create standardization. Earlier societies kept running into problems because builders, traders, farmers, etc. had different way of measuring things. This led to a lot of confusion and misunderstandings. Think about it -- what if one person's interpretation of a mile was different from another's, how would you know the distance from point A to point B? Or what if merchant #1 and merchant #2 measured a pound of meat differently but both merchants charged you $3.99 a pound? What a mess! So the solution was that each unit would have a universally recognized size. That way if you were trading goods, for example, the seller and buyer had the same understanding of the amount (measure) that was being traded.
For this reason...
A pound is a pound is a pound all day every day no matter what you are measuring!
One of pound of Jell-O weighs exactly the same as one pound of apples. One pound of grapefruit weighs the same as one pound of oranges. A pound is a pound is a pound. It has to be, right? Otherwise what would be the point of having a standard point of reference (the pound)?
So why has this “muscle weighs more than fat” myth spread like wildfire? Well, like most things it has smatterings of truth. It’s like that age old experiment in which several people are lined up in a row. The first person in line tells a story to the next person in line and it keeps getting re-told until everyone has been informed. Invariably, by the time the story is told to the last person, the details are no longer accurate. Pieces of the story may resemble the truth, but the original message is now distorted or in some instances completely lost. Why? Because as the story was re-told, some of the storytellers added things that weren’t in the original story or removed things that were. So let’s finally dispel the myth, shall we?
Join me for Part 2.
coach tam's Blog
40-something who loves food, fitness, and fun!