Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
Many people tend to claim that muscle weighs more than fat.
And I get asked a lot whether or not this is true…
So, considering that there seems to be quite a bit of confusion about this, I thought it was high time I wrote an article to help clear things up.
The reason that so many people are interested in this in the first place is because it can sometimes be tough to determine if weight gain or weight loss is a result of losing (or gaining) muscle as opposed to fat.
If you are doing strength training with the hope of losing fat, only to find that your scale weight has stayed the same, you may understandably be discouraged.
However, if we take the weight of muscle into consideration, you may have lost fat AND gained muscle at the same time, which evened out to your body weight remaining the same.
And specifically in situations where you may have actually gained weight – when you really wanted to be losing it – this particular claim, if true, would provide a heartening explanation.
So let’s take a proper look at this claim to find out.
Not Heavier But More Dense
The problem with this question is that it ends up misleading a lot of people…
By definition, a certain weight of something is always going to be the same as the same weight of something else.
For instance, a pound of feathers weighs the same as a pound of bricks, even though it might intuitively seem like the bricks should be heavier.
However, muscle and fat differ considerably in terms of density, as you can see from the picture below.
In fact, muscle is 18% more dense than fat, which means that any given weight in muscle will take up less physical space than the same amount of weight in fat.
This fact helps to explain why someone can actually gain several pounds, but look much leaner, since they actually occupy less physical space than before.
Here is a good example:
This woman weighs 125 pounds in the photo on the left, and 130 pounds in the photo on the right.
However, she looks a lot thinner in the photo on the right, and you would probably be surprised to learn that she is actually 5 pounds heavier.
So, yes, you can actually get heavier as your waist line shrinks down, depending on how much muscle you are building.
Muscle Burns More Calories Than Fat
It is also worth noting that a pound of muscle will burn more calories than a pound of fat.
Yes, your body composition actually impacts how many calories your body is burning day to day.
If you take 2 people that weigh 180 pounds, but one of them is 18% body fat and the other is 30% body fat, they will generally have very different BMRs.
Typically, the BMR of the person with more muscle and less fat will be higher.
In this way, muscle is not only more dense than fat, but it is also more expensive than fat, in terms of how many calories it burns just by existing.
However, the extent of the difference is often grossly exaggerated….
In fact, it has been demonstrated that a pound of muscle burns between 7 to 10 calories per day, whereas a pound of fat burns just 2 calories per day.
Which means that if one of these people has 20 pounds more muscle than the other person, they are still only burning about 160 additional calories per day from the muscle mass (at the high end).
So, while muscle does seem to burn more calories than fat, it is hardly a groundbreaking difference.
So, let’s get back to the question at hand…
No matter what you are weighing, a pound of anything is going to weigh the same as a pound of anything else.
And that weight is 1 pound!
That being said, muscle is indeed denser than fat, occupying less total space, and also burns slightly more calories than fat.
So, in practical terms, this means that you shouldn’t stress too much about your scale weight, without looking at the other indicators as a whole.
If you are getting stronger, but weigh the same amount on the scale, then it is fairly likely that you have lost fat and built muscle.
Want to get a better sense of what’s going on?
Then you should be measuring your body fat along with weighing yourself.
Then if you see that you are a pound heavier, but have dropped several percent in terms of body fat, you’ll know that you’re on the right track and don’t need to freak out.
However, pound for pound, fat and muscle both weigh exactly the same – so next time you hear this myth being tossed around, be a good citizen and direct them to this article.