Seeing a big body composition change and its impact on one’s personality, one’s quality of life and one’s confidence is probably the thing that pleases me most in my job. What pleases me possibly least, is hearing; “I’ve been working so hard, why have I not lost more weight”, or variations on this theme. So closely linked these two are, yet poles apart.
Here are 3 facts that I hope illustrate my point once and for all:
Fact #1: Muscle is More Dense than Fat
I want to be more ‘toned’, actually means ‘I want to gain muscle and lose fat’. Muscle of course doesn’t weigh more than fat. 1kg of fat weighs the same as 1kg of muscle. However, muscle displaces less space than adipose tissue (fat).
If you lost 1kg. of fat and gained 1kg. of muscle (which is quite common, even ideal on some programmes) you would in fact weigh the same at the end. If it had taken you 3 weeks to achieve this, that is in fact highly commendable, but if you only looked at that darn figure on the weighing scales, you’d be motivationally flat to say the least, without knowing the whole picture. One lady who I tested yesterday had trained intelligently and very hard with me for 6 weeks. She weighed 62kg. at the start. She weighed 62kg. at the end. However, at the start of training she had 13.6 kg. of fat (22% body fat). During the 6 weeks she gained a whopping 2.8kg of muscle. Therefore her new body fat percentage was 17%. 5% Fat Loss and 2.8kg. of Muscle Gained. I have already urged this lady to make sure to take her ‘after’ photo, as with these body composition changes, her body will look amazing, she’ll feel amazing and she will stop talking about weight once and for all.
Fact #2: Weight is Just a Number… Literally
I am not saying that if you have a body fat percentage of 35% that you should not be concerned with losing weight, when you are on an exercise programme. The fat loss you achieve should outweigh the associated gain in muscle, thus ending in weight loss. However, the weight statistic is too often the driving force behind a programme and when you consider that the human body can hold around 2 litres in the stomach and large intestine at one time. This is not taking into account the extra fluid retention associated with ‘that time of the month’.
So as I’m sure, we have all seen before, one’s weight can fluctuate up to 2-3 kilos from one day to the next, depending on what is being retained. Looking at your weight everyday therefore often only serves to confuse and depress. The things you should be looking for are changes in shape, how you fit in your clothes and if you are lucky to have these things measured: Body Fat Percentage (particularly in specific areas which will elude to your hormone response) and Lean Muscle Mass (used by an experienced practitioner with top-quality calipers), or a good alternative is circumference measurements. BMI (Body Mass Index) although a reasonably effective indicator for the masses, can be quite misleading. I for instance am border-line over weight according to the BMI. I can tell you now that I’m not by the way, I weigh the same as perhaps someone who is the same height and weight (but they have 5kgs. less muscle mass and 5kgs. more fat). If you are on an effective exercise and nutritional programme, you should be concentrating on changing your BODY COMPOSITION.
Fact #3: Women Shouldn’t be Afraid to Gain Muscle
A common misconception is that by lifting weights or doing body weight exercises (such as full push ups) regularly will cause you to look like a cross between a neanderthal man and a certain 1980s/90s British javelin thrower at her throwing peak, who will remain unnamed. To hypertrophy muscles (grow them bigger) to such an extent to achieve big bulky muscles like that of a bodybuilder, you would have to dedicate a lot of time and effort in the gym, on a very specific programme and spend almost every waking hour eating. Here as well, we are talking gains of 5-20kg. of muscle mass. Gaining half to 2 kilos in muscle mass (along with losing body fat) will only serve to improve your aesthetics; stronger, leaner, sporty women are (in my honest opinion) more attractive for it.
Interestingly, bodybuilders don’t tend to be as strong as they look (proportionately). Gaining low amounts of muscle is preferable and should happen when you are adhering to a quality training and eating programme. The important thing here is that these new muscle are functional. It is important to look at how your strength has improved (upper body, lower body and core strength), i.e. what this new muscle does for you. Also, look at how your fitness (and/or) speed has improved, i.e. to see that your lungs, heart and new found muscle takes you further and faster. Remember these stats tomorrow Campers.
My top-5 reasons why women should not be afraid of gaining muscle are:
- More Fat Burnt Day in, Day out
The greater your lean mass (and lower your fat percentage), the greater thermic effect and the higher your basal metabolic rate. Approximately, for every kilo in muscle gained, you will burn 110 calories extra per day.
- A Longer Life
Greater muscle mass and strength and the resulting empowerment it creates are the top predictors for longevity in females according to a study at Tufts University (Massachusetts, U.S.). Better predictors even than blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Greater Immune System
With more muscle comes a greater ability to buffer acidity in your body (as a result of having now more protein, calcium, potassium and magnesium in the body). The result of being more alkaline is a greater endurance potential and greater resistance to illness (from the common cold to cancer).
- Better Insulin Management
More muscle equals more numerous insulin receptor sites and more sensitive at that, which means the body is more efficient in burning fat.
- Ability to Stay Lean During and After the Menopause
With the increase in muscle and associated increase in bone density that strength training causes, you are more able to get lean and stay lean before your ovaries shut up shop, at the same time lowering your chances of oesteoporosis and brittle bone problems.
To summarise; when engaging in an exercise plan (and accompanying clean eating, like my PowerPack plan) and reviewing your bodily changes, this is what you should and shouldn’t concentrate on.
|Phrases to focus on||Phrases to not focus on|
|How You Fit and Feel in Your Clothes
(bear in mind that sometimes, jeans may get
tighter in the leg, with more muscle)
|Lean Muscle Mass||Weight|
|Body Fat Percentage||Weight|
|And… Body Composition||And … Weight|
Remember, you are more important than the number on the scales and now, you know better! 🙂