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What is the Difference Between Muscle Weight and Fat Weight?

By Amy Hunter
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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The difference between muscle weight and fat weight is significant. Of course, a pound weighs a pound, but muscle is much more compact. Fat takes up more room, and moves more, giving that characteristic jiggle.

People have trouble understanding how different they will look if they lose just ten pounds. They look at two bags of sugar and don’t think that much weight will make any difference. Ten pounds of fat, however, takes up much more room than ten pounds of sugar. If you lose ten pounds, you will probably go down a full clothing size.

Muscle weight is very compact. One pound of muscle does not take up much room. Many people who have a great deal of weight to lose are reluctant to begin lifting weights. They are concerned they will put on muscle weight and look even heavier than they currently do.

If you are in this situation, with a great deal of weight to lose, it makes sense to begin lifting weights right away. Certainly the pounds may drop a little slower than they would if you only dieted, but the muscle weight that you gain will give you a sleek and trim look. Even before muscle definition is visible you will see differences in your posture and way of carrying yourself.

Another reason that you should begin lifting weights as soon as possible in the weight loss process is because muscle weight does not develop overnight. The smaller muscles, such as the biceps, can show results from diligent workouts in as little as a month. For the larger muscle groups, such as your hamstrings or quadriceps, it can take three to four months to see visible changes in the muscles. If you wait until you lose all of the weight you want to before beginning a weight loss program, it may be a year or more before you see results.

It makes sense to build muscles for reasons other than wanting to look good in a tank top. Performing weight bearing exercise, such as weight lifting, can decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis. Replacing fat with muscle mass is also healthier for your heart. Strengthening your muscles can also slow many of the difficulties of aging, such as mobility problems. Regardless of your reasons, replacing fat weight with muscle weight is a worthwhile endeavor.

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Discussion Comments

By anon140685 — On Jan 08, 2011

What is the weight of a cubic inch of fat compared to a cubic inch of muscle?

By suntan12 — On Jul 16, 2010

Greenweaver- I totally agree. I try to build muscle weight and lose fat weight so that I can get into by smaller jeans. I lift weights three to four times a week and I jog the same amount weekly.

I have noticed my clothes fitting looser, but most important of all- my metabolism is very high due to the added muscle weight. I focus on my inches and not the pounds because if not you can easily become a slave to the scale and make yourself miserable.

By GreenWeaver — On Jul 16, 2010

Great article- I just want to add that many people that begin a weight loss program have a hard time understanding muscle weight.

They just want to lose weight and get the scale to go down, but what they don’t realize that when one begins exercising and begins to build muscle mass that muscle burns more calories over time.

In fact extra calories are burned even when the person is sedentary. This is why fitness guru, Bob Greene, fitness trainer to Oprah Winfrey, does not allow his clients to step on the scale for the first month of beginning his workout and weight loss plan.

He does however take measurements which demonstrate success as well because fat does take up less space than muscle.

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