Lose weight or build muscle - why choose?

By MISSY CORRIGAN
Posted 2/28/18

It's an all-too-common belief that you have to lose weight first before building muscle. When specifically talking about losing weight, many programs restrict strength training or even any type of exercise altogether. The reason for this is that …

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Lose weight or build muscle - why choose?

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It's an all-too-common belief that you have to lose weight first before building muscle. When specifically talking about losing weight, many programs restrict strength training or even any type of exercise altogether. The reason for this is that when you do exercise, your blood volume increases by up to 800 percent. This extra fluid in the body can cause the number on the scale to go up, which is definitely not something anyone on a weight-loss program wants to see.

More specifically, with weight training, the goal is to build and strengthen muscles. This again drives up blood volume, but as muscles grow, so does the amount of water in the muscles. Muscles are made up of two-thirds water; muscles become more dense, thus driving the number up on the scale. Again, this is not a favorable result for that weight-loss program.

So why not just forget about the number on the scale and focus on building muscle? The more muscle you have, the more metabolically active you are. Muscle requires more energy, or calories, to survive than fat cells do. In fact, muscle requires an additional 35 calories compared to just 4 calories for fat cells.

Pound for pound, muscle and fat weigh the same. Think of muscle as a one-pound brick and fat as a one-pound bag of feathers. They both weigh the same, but it takes about the size of a large trash bag filled with feathers to weigh one pound. So while they weigh the same, it is the fat that takes up a lot more room. When you focus on increasing muscle but losing fat, the scale may not change, but you are losing inches, and you are getting smaller. It is difficult to grasp this because the positive changes are not reflected on the scale.

Furthermore, muscle and fat are two completely different tissues in the body. Fat cannot turn into muscle, and muscle cannot turn into fat. Both are directly affected by the food we choose to eat, but only muscle is directly stimulated by exercise. You can spot strengthen certain muscles, but you cannot spot reduce any area of your body's fat cells. While many use exercise to burn calories, it is primarily used for building muscular strength and endurance.

It is much more efficient to focus on building muscle while trying to lose weight. When the body becomes stronger, the bones and joints are better protected, and the body overall is more dense. On a weight-loss program where strength training is prohibited, lean body tissue is lost, which includes muscle, bone density and the proteins and water inside of your muscle cells. When you do start strength training you will see the scale go up because you are rebuilding these major components of a healthy body that have been lost.

With more than 600 muscles in the human body we need to strength train to build muscle. Losing weight is important, but losing lean body tissue is not the type of weight you want to lose. Be sure your approach is a healthy one that doesn't eliminate strengthening your muscles. In addition to gaining muscle, you boost your potential for changing your body faster than if you were to lose weight first before building muscle.