Lose fat, keep muscle


Losing weight can be a struggle, but making sure you are losing the right kind of weight requires a completely different approach.

Because health professionals support body composition - muscle-to-fat ratio - as a greater indicator of health status than weight alone, the strategy for weight loss needs to change. Losing weight does not guarantee that you are losing body fat. Instead, many weight-loss programs result in loss of lean body mass: muscle, water and bone density. While seeing the number on the scale go down can be exciting, losing lean body mass is not.

Although the scale is an important tool in measuring progress, it cannot be your sole means of measuring your improvement. How can you be sure that the weight you are losing or gaining is fat? The only information you get from a scale is your weight which includes bones, skin, muscles, fat, organs, blood, water and the clothes that you are wearing. It does not tell you how much of that weight is muscle or fat.

Muscle and fat are different tissues with different functions. Muscle is metabolically active, which is designed to contract and respond based on the demand placed on it. It can get stronger with exercise and weaker without it, and it is supported by a healthy diet. Fat cells grow and shrink based on your body's energy needs and how much and what you eat. It is basically your body's storage dump for food that cannot be used.

Internal body fat and external body fat are both affected by nutrition intake and physical activity. While you can't control which type of fat you gain or lose, adopting healthy behavior to reduce body fat can improve your health. Some experts suggest that losing weight is not even necessary to improve your health status or improve your physique; rather, it is focusing on body fat reduction through healthy practices that can more quickly produce desired results.

When you exercise, 100 percent of your muscle capillaries open, as compared to 20 percent at rest, allowing more blood to flow to your muscle. In fact, your blood volume can increase up to 800 percent. So if you weigh yourself before and after exercise and notice that you have lost weight, it is fluid that you have lost, not fat. It is recommended that you drink the same amount of weight in water that was lost. So it is safe to say that it is normal for the scale go up after exercise.

But don't give up on your exercise routine just yet. Building muscle through exercise increases your metabolic rate throughout the day, and your weight will return to normal. Depending on the intensity of your activity, it may take up to 15 hours for the extra fluid to leave your body.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.