Gain Muscle to Lose Weight

Have you ever wondered how weight training and building muscle can actually help you lose weight? It seems like an oxymoron, right? 

Are you afraid that if you gain muscle that you’ll just look bulkier when all you really want is a leaner body? Do you believe the theory that you must do lots of cardio training to lose weight?

DO NOT believe everything you read! The truth is, weight training is a key component to weight loss. You look better, build confidence, become stronger and your body becomes a calorie burning machine as you create more muscle. Let’s break it down just a bit into bite sized pieces we can more easily digest.



Muscle is constantly being built up or broken down within the body. Here again, it goes against what you would think, but generally speaking you tear it down when you weight train, and it is rebuilt during rest periods. During your weight lifting workout, you develop tiny tears in your muscle fibers. This is why you are sometimes sore the day or two after a weight training session. 

After your workout, your immune system kicks in and again, generally speaking, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands. The body is such an amazing thing! The muscle becomes bigger and stronger, so you can lift heavier weights. And so, the cycle begins.

So, let’s take a closer look at muscle. One liter (or just a little over two pints) of muscle weighs approximately 2.3 pounds. Here’s the key though, so, take a moment to think about this: Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, the American Council on Exercise’s Chief Science Officer, suggests a pound of muscle burns about 6-7 calories a day, based on research published by McClave and Snider in 2001. Let’s take a 175 pound, 35-year-old man that is five feet, eleven inches tall, with 15% body fat. He would have approximately 148 pounds of muscle and 26 pounds of fat. 148 pounds of muscle burns approximately 975 calories a day.

That’s looking pretty good, right? Now let’s take a look at fat.



What’s up with fat? Well, there are many downsides to fat. There are a few upsides, but we’ll save those for another discussion. One of the downsides is that when your body creates a fat cell, you cannot lose that fat cell, you can only shrink it. Another annoying fact about fat is layers of fat will cover muscle. So even if your body consists of more muscle than fat, the fat is what gets all of the looks. 

In comparison to muscle, one liter of fat weighs 1.98 lbs. At first glance, you might think, “YAY, it weighs less”, but hold up there a second, that’s not a good thing. That one pound of fat burns only 2-3 calories at rest, that’s less than half of what one pound of muscle burns! Going back to our 175-pound man that has 15% body fat. The body fat would weigh 26 pounds and only burn 65 calories a day. So, if our 175-pound man did nothing all day his muscle and fat alone would burn 1040 calories.

If you factor in breathing and other organ functions, his basal metabolic rate (BMR) would be around 1840. Basal metabolic rate is the rate at which the body uses energy while at rest to keep vital functions going, such as breathing and keeping warm. So, we’ll say those other functions burn 800 calories a day.

Let’s change the percentage of fat on this individual. Now our 35-year-old man has approximately 25% body fat. His muscle mass is 131 pounds and his fat mass is 43 pounds. The muscle burns 852 calories and the fat burns 108 calories, bringing the total calories burned to 960. Factor in the same 800 calories for the other bodily functions, and the man burns 1760 calories a day. The difference on a daily basis, doing absolutely nothing is 80 calories. In just one year, it is a difference of 29,200 calories. 

There are other things that would need to be factored in for each individual, but this gives you an idea of why having muscle is superior to having fat when only looking at it as a calorie burning machine. Again, muscle burns more than twice as many calories as fat.



We’ll take a closer look at calories now. Calories are actually measured as heat energy. Technically speaking, one calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 degree Celsius. How do we view calories? By food and exercise! How many calories are in our food and how many calories do I burn in my exercise routine? 

We know that 3500 calories equal 1 pound of fat (if you didn’t know that, you do now). Put simply, you need to burn 3500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat.  A good rule of thumb for sustained weight loss is to lose 1-2 pounds per week or a deficit of 3500-7000 calories in a week. That sounds like an awful lot of calories! The truth is, the average diet should be about 2,000 calories a day. To gain or lose weight, you need to increase or decrease those calories accordingly.

Studies have shown that 10 weeks of strength training can increase lean weight by 3 pounds, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 4 pounds. So, if you’re increasing lean weight by 3 pounds, kicking up your metabolic rate and reducing fat weight by 4 pounds, I’m going to let you do the math. Suffice it to say, this is the method that turns your body into a calorie burning machine. Over time, your body gets better and more efficient.



We covered why muscle is superior to fat for burning calories, now let’s take a quick look at aesthetics. Since we know muscle is denser than fat (2.3 pounds of muscle = 1 liter as opposed to 1.98 pounds of fat being equal to the same 1 liter), it stands to reason, that muscle takes up less room. To help give a visual, 25 pounds of fat takes up 12.63 liters in comparison to 25 pounds of muscle which take up only 10.87 liters. Visualize liter bottles to get an idea of how that looks. 

Now I have demonstrated why muscle is also superior to fat aesthetically speaking. 



The last point I’d like to make is muscle makes you feel strong and confident. I don’t think there is any question about the first part, it makes you feel strong because we already know with more muscle you are stronger. But what about the confidence. Do people with more muscle truly have more confidence? There have been studies that prove this, but I’ll do you one better. Go ask anyone who has increased their muscle mass (naturally of course). Article after article has been written by people who have changed their bodies. They boast about the positive effects on their self-esteem, energy, stress relief, and overall confidence. 



Muscle is superior to fat for a variety of reasons. If you would like to be thinner, if you are looking to become more confident, if you are looking to be healthier and happier, if you would like to join the ranks of those who have taken control of their lives by simply building muscle and reducing fat, start lifting weights. And don’t be a whimp…lifting heavy won’t make you bulk up. It will make you stronger and give you quicker results!