How can I tell how much of the weight I've gained is muscle?
February 23, 2012 6:53 AM   Subscribe

How can I tell how much of the weight I've gained is muscle?

The husband and I have been working on our beach bodies for the past 4-5 months in prep for summer. We're both aiming to drop about 15 lbs and put on some muscle.

To that end we've been running 5x a week and lifting 4x a week. We're definitely seeing progress. We've gone from running one mile per session to three or four miles, and we've both added about 20lbs onto what we bench, and 15lbs onto biceps, shoulders, etc. We're definitely seeing increases in muscle definition and size.

We're also trying to eat about a 1500 calorie per day diet, which in conjunction with the running should be burning off the fat pretty nicely. We've had a few indulgences here and there during the holidays, but we've been pretty good about sticking to it overall.

But despite all of this, both of our weights have actually increased a few pounds since we started (we're using the Hacker's Diet for measuring, so the increase has been in our running average, rather than our scale weight). I know that realistically we shouldn't focus too much on the weight because it's a misleading stat, but it is demoralizing, especially since- despite all the muscle gain- neither of us has seen much decrease in our love handles.

Is it safe to assume that the gain is due at least in part to us gaining muscle faster than we're losing fat? Should we be revising our weight loss goals to compensate for muscle gain? Is there some method for determining how much muscle weight you're gaining?
posted by reticulatedspline to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you're running farther, lifting more, and, most importantly, feeling better, you can assume whatever you want because your exercise and diet plan is working.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:56 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

But to answer your actual question, determining bodyfat composition is nontrivial, and how helpful it would be is hard to say because it seems you may not have taken a baseline reading before you started. However, if you were to take one now and then another in a month or two you could see where the wait is going on (fat or muscle). The way to take a reading range from expensive and accurate to cheaper and less accurate. Info on the ways to measure can be found here.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:59 AM on February 23, 2012

I'm with Aizkolari on this one. In addition to running farther, feeling stronger and better have you noticed that your clothes are fitting better? That was the unexpected reward/measuring stick that did it for me.
posted by mmascolino at 7:00 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're interested in "body fat percentage". There are several methods to measure it, some expensive, inconvenient and accurate; and others cheap, convenient and not so accurate.

I've been using a cheap convenient bathroom scale that also measures body fat. It's probably not close to spot on, but with it I can at least note trends either way.

Depending on your weight and your fitness goals -- 1500 calories may be a little light, especially for your husband.
posted by notyou at 7:03 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Weight != health. You seem to have an intellectual understanding of that, but it's hard to overcome our societal bias toward easy measurements of things. As others have said, you can lift more, run farther, look better and feel better.

Throw away your scale. Weight is not a problem for you. If you were trying to lose 200 pounds, then the scale would be helpful. Fifteen pounds is not something you need to track to that level of detail.
posted by Etrigan at 7:08 AM on February 23, 2012

If you can go back in time, you could measure key areas, so you could compare them to now. But if you're clothes are fitting better, there's a good chance you're gaining muscle and losing some fat. Sound to me like you should keep on keeping on with what you're doing.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:12 AM on February 23, 2012

One thing to keep in mind when looking at the scales that give you body fat percentage is that they are Hugely effected by how hydrated you are. And you have no idea what your BF% was at the start of this fitness boom, so that would only help you going forward.

You've probably gained more muscle than you even expect - maybe you could do some simple measurements now (waist, thigh, upper arm, hips) and compare those later? That would be more accurate. As everyone points out, focus on those fitness data that you have: how much you can DO. Go you on the improvements!

(Also, yes! Be sure y'all are eating enough - especially after workouts - otherwise your bodies will do their best to consume that hard-earned muscle and store fat)
posted by ldthomps at 7:16 AM on February 23, 2012

Have you checked your waist size? Even as you add lbs of muscle your waist should be shrinking. See if your pants feel looser!
posted by gpoint at 7:29 AM on February 23, 2012

If your measurements have gotten smaller you've lost body fat.

If your measurements haven't changed, you are probably measuring your food wrong and your intake is greater than you think.
posted by schroedinger at 7:34 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to take 5-fold (minimum) measurements with bodyfat calipers (metal not plastic ones). This is your baseline measurement. In a few weeks/months, you will take another measurement and compare the results. You can find various BF calculators online that will take your measurements and spit out a pretty accurate estimate of your BF%. You will also need to record your weight at the same time you take your skin fold measurements.

Then you have to do some math where you take your baseline weight and BF% and your new weight and BF% and somehow figure out how much of the weight you've gained is muscle and how much is fat.
posted by some loser at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2012

One of the better pieces of advice I got when starting the current diet was to measure as well as weigh. It's a decent (and cheap) proxy for fat vs. muscle.

Every morning I hit the scales, and on Saturday morning I grab the tape measure and record upper arms, chest, belly, beltline, around the butt, and thighs.

There have been a few weeks where I didn't lose much weight-wise, but lost 1-1.5" measure-wise (like on one week after I changed my exercise pattern). Knowing that was a big morale boost.
posted by dws at 7:44 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just as an aside, I'm willing to bet that certainly your husband and maybe you need to be eating more.
posted by downing street memo at 7:49 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with MoonOrb, which may be a more succinct description of something others were saying. To break down the math: [(1-BF2)*W2 - (1-BF2)*W1] = Change in lean body mass, which is assumed to be muscle mass as bone, skin, etc. should not change. BFX is body fat percentage on X measurement date and WX is total weight at X measurement date. Alternatively, you can calc your body fat changes and compare it to total weight changes.

Traditionalists prefer caliper measurements for BF% but consistency is tough. Aside from water retention, you may simply have user error. Professionals with plenty of experience may exhibit variation. I personally prefer high quality bathroom scales, and I take my measurements at the same time each day - after waking up and going to the bathroom, and before I eat or take a shower (showers will definitely blow your measurements). I read something recently that found you may still get up to 5% variation. However, with a scale I have been using for about two months, I have seen little variation.

Also, depending on his height, 1500 calories may be light for your husband if he is targeting muscle growth. The best way to compensate would be to eat plenty of protein and a small amount of high quality carbs within fifteen minutes of working out and/or using a post-workout shake or bananas along with your protein source to aid muscle recovery/growth. From what you've described, muscle recovery is definitely happening. The other item you want to get plenty of is water... lots and lots of water.

However, it may be better to first target muscle growth with 2,000+ calories and 100+ grams of protein (you have to be comfortable with the risks of significantly upping your protein), and then once you've gained the muscle you are interested in, cut to 1,500 calories, reduced the protein slightly, and increase fat burn through heart-rate target training (upping moderate cardio). You might be able to get by with less than 1,500 calories for shorter periods, shooting for 1,000+ calorie deficits.

p.s. not medical advice and I am no expert. I geeked out on this stuff when working on similar goals. Truly, you deserve to be commended for what you guys have done so far. Awesome gains.
posted by IndpMed at 9:52 AM on February 23, 2012

Are you regularly taking rest days? Occasional longer rests?

This might not hold for you, but when I am losing weight through a combination of diet exercise it tends to fall off in odd chunks in a sort of "punctuated equilibrium," and there seems to be something about rest days that kicks these off. This is just my personal experience, but if you haven't been taking rest days regularly it's probably a good idea to start anyway.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:13 AM on February 23, 2012

Ignatius J. Reilly, I have found this with my own weight loss too, especially with regard to the rest days.
posted by Elcee at 7:27 PM on February 23, 2012

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