"Muscle weighs twice as much as fat"
July 6, 2012 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm working out, particularly around the torso, and I'm much stronger. My waistline hasn't budged. My weight has barely changed since I started going to the Y and doing 20 minutes of cardio a day plus lifting weights. Loving wife says that's because I'm building muscle, and "muscle weighs twice as much as fat." What's truly going on?
posted by musofire to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
how is your diet?
posted by sweetkid at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

also how long have you been doing this?
posted by sweetkid at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Work out to build muscle. Adjust your diet to lose fat.
posted by xingcat at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

Most likely you aren't doing enough cardio to actually burn off a lot of fat. You are still getting much, much stronger and healthier which is awesome, but your body is going to hoard fat and not use it till its really neccessary. If you want to start dropping fat and lose some inches do 20 minutes of cardio to get rid of the easy fuel, then do weights, then do 60 minutes of cardio after. I'd start doing this twice a week. You'll be surprised.
posted by stormygrey at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Loving wife is correct that muscle weighs more than fat. It's a little odd that your waistline hasn't changed, though... usually when I get on a good run of working out, my weight doesn't actually change, but I definitely go one or two holes down on my belts.
posted by Grither at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2012

Are you still only doing 20 minutes of cardio a day? I think that if you start increasing that, and taxing your body beyond what it’s already accustomed to, assuming your diet is okay, you’ll start seeing weight loss. I know runners who do 1-2 hours a day who still struggle with weight. 20 minutes isn’t going to do it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2012

20 minutes of cardio will burn at max 200 calories. That's a tablespoon of olive oil - i.e., not much. In order to see weight loss you have to cut what you eat.
posted by something something at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I tend to think that 20 minutes of cardio is not a whole lot if your goal is weight loss. (still, that's great that you have started this).

Also, echoing others in wondering how long its been and how many days a week you go? (it seems like everyday but you don't specify). And diet is key as well.
posted by bearette at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2012

You can't spot reduce--doing lots of core work will not make your waistline smaller.

Muscle is more dense than fat, but if you are gaining muscle at a rate that's outstripping your fat loss then you would be seeing significant noticeable physical changes. Waistline getting smaller, shoulders broader, you'd look a lot fitter.

Most likely culprit is you are not addressing the dietary side of things. Fat loss is mostly about dietary changes. Are you cutting calories and improving your nutrition?
posted by Anonymous at 8:43 AM on July 6, 2012

"muscle weighs twice as much as fat."

This is true, but if your waistline isn't changing, you really aren't losing fat. My weight change in and out of condition isn't huge, but my waistline sure changes.
posted by bonehead at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2012

Also, if you don't address diet no amount of cardio in the world will help you. It generally takes an hour of running for a 150lbs person to burn 150 calories. That is less than one ice cream bar. When people start working out their appetites generally increase, so if you're not counting calories it means you eat more t compensate for the increased activity and end up with no net deficit.
posted by Anonymous at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2012

Yeah, 20 minutes of cardio is nothing. If you're running three miles in that time, and weigh 200 lbs, you're burning at most 380. That's unlikely, and you're probably running closer to 2 miles and burning 250 calories. If you're cycling, you're looking at more like 200 calories.

Skip a bottle of soda and you're seeing the same effect.
posted by The Michael The at 8:45 AM on July 6, 2012

FYI, I'm calculating net running calories using the .63 x weight in lbs x miles formula from Runner's World. It seems to be on the high end of some of the estimates here, but is still way below what most cardio machines tell you.
posted by The Michael The at 8:46 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, nthing "what are you eating?" Everyone is different, of course, but as anecdata I lost ~40 pounds just by changing my eating habits. No regular exercise, and definitely no cardio.
posted by rtha at 8:52 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ya, if you literally mean your waistline hasn't changed (as in you were 36 inches before and you're at 36 inches now), then you're probably not gaining muscle and losing fat. If your weight hasn't changed but you're losing inches, than your wife could be right. You probably need to adjust your diet to reduce your weight.

There are lots of exercise/calorie counters online. Find out how many calories are in a burger. Now find out how long you need to run to burn off those calories. Exercise has many benefits, but losing weight isn't super high on that list.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2012

I would like to say that 20 minutes of cardio is not "nothing", if that is what works for your schedule do not, DO NOT, get discouraged by the fact you can't do more. It will absolutely lead to you having a longer, healthier, more enjoyable life. Even if you this is all you do, and you don't change your diet (including not eating more because you are hungrier from working out), I'd estimate that with moderate cardio and weightlifting, you may be burning up 250 calories. If you do that five times a week, you are burning 5000 calories a month, which is a 1.5 of fat. You do this for a year and you've lost almost 20 lbs of pure fat, not to mention getting a bit more ripped.

That is something! That is a lifestyle change that you can be proud of.
posted by stormygrey at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2012 [35 favorites]

It generally takes an hour of running for a 150lbs person to burn 150 calories.

What on earth?? No way. An hour of running could be 4 miles, it could be 10 miles. But it sure isn't as low as 150 calories.
posted by peep at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just to get technically correct for a second, muscle doesn't *weigh* more than fat (2 pounds of fat weighs the same as 2 pounds of muscle). But, muscle is more *dense* than fat (a certain amount of volume of fat weighs less than the same volume of muscle). So measuring waistline is the way to go for you since it provides some indication of reduced volume. Because of this, I always recommend people ditch the scale and focus on waistline measurements or going by how your clothes fit.

Also nthing a focus on your diet - it will help tremendously with fat loss, and you will feel better too!
posted by TessaGal at 9:00 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

One mile of running/jogging burns 100 calories.

Diet is such a huge factor. If you are burning 250 calories from your weight training and cardio something like an extra bowl of cereal with milk, or a peanut butter sandwich, is going to negate this. So, try to have a calorie deficit. Also, be patient. I think too many people get freaked out if the scale is not moving immediately. You are doing yourself big favors with this exercise. Even if the scale is not moving right now I bet you look better and feel better.
posted by Fairchild at 9:02 AM on July 6, 2012

You also lose fat from where you last put it on, which for most people means it comes off your face and arms before your waistline. Which is annoying, but not something anyone can change.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:05 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi. I'm easily classified as a crazy-ass athlete - I've done 20 marathons in the past 5 years and currently am training for an Ironman in a few months. I run 50-60 miles a week and bike 100+ miles a week and swim (my swimming abilities are a sensitive topic lately). Do I LOOK like I do this? Oh hell no. And the reason why I don't look skinnier/fitter/more muscley/whatever is because I don't give two shits about what I eat. Seriously - it's all diet. Cut your diet by about 500 calories a day for a month and you'll see something happen.
posted by floweredfish at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

When you start losing fat (I think the others have addressed the why pretty well), it's also not necessarily going to come from the most obvious places. I have a big belly and have lost a pretty substantial amount of weight...and have lost nothing on the gut. But on my face, my back, the backs of my legs, those I've all visibly lost weight. Fat has a sense of humor, as they say.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2012

One mile of jogging/running can burn more or less than 100 calories depending on your pace. Higher pace = more calorie burn per mile. The Michael The post above is the evidence.
posted by cnc at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2012

Nthing the diet. I was doing nearly an hour on the treadmill a day and losing nothing. I seriously cut back on what I ate (went 95% vegan - no cheese, etc) and instantly began dropping weight. The weight loss did not change if I continued on the treadmill or when I cut back.
posted by UMDirector at 9:26 AM on July 6, 2012

You don't exercise to lose weight, you exercise to improve cardiovascular fitness and/or build muscle. To lose weight you adjust your diet. If you are trying to lose inches you need to cut back on how much food you are eating. Whether you do that through pure calorie counting or through carb restriction or whatever (which tends to naturally restrict calories) doesn't matter so much.

It's possible to lose weight through maintaining your current diet and exercising more but you need to exercise A LOT more. Probably triple what you're doing at the least assuming your 20 minutes is accurate.
posted by Justinian at 11:31 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

20 minutes of cardio is nothing. Your body is not going to metabolize any fat after 20 minutes of exercise (unless it is already starving) - you need to go for much longer than that. Diet is, of course, the other side of the coin and you need to do both.
posted by ssg at 11:31 AM on July 6, 2012

If your goal is to lose weight, then your doing it wrong. Cardio is all you should really do, if your wanting to get toned at the same time as losing weight, use ridiculously low weight in training. Do a hundred reps with small weights instead of low reps with high weight. Muscle weighs more then fat.

In regards to jogging and running:
the calories burnt doing exercise is related to your weight when doing the exercise. An extremely obese person running 1 mile might lose 500 calories. A seasoned runner will barely lose anything.
posted by couchdive at 12:23 PM on July 6, 2012

Cardio is all you should really do, if your wanting to get toned at the same time as losing weight, use ridiculously low weight in training. Do a hundred reps with small weights instead of low reps with high weight.

This is... not correct, is the kindest way I can put it. Your routine, without any further detail, is probably fine. Everyone above is correct in noting that your food is the biggest part of any weight-loss equation.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

Ditto restless_nomad. Lot of of reps with light weights just makes you tired, not toned.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:11 PM on July 6, 2012

I just want to add to what others have said that if you can't increase the *time* of your cardio, then you still can increase the *intensity* of it. If you're on the treadmill you can do a hill program, or try the rowing erg (but learn to use it with correct form, unlike 90% of people you see using it at the gym), because rowing can be a very high intensity form of cardio.

And you can add a cardio element to your weightlifting to make it more intense. Instead of resting in between sets by just sitting around (as I see many people doing at the gym( do burpees inbetween sets. Or jumping jacks. Or squat jumps. This keeps your heart rate up for your entire workout.
posted by Kurichina at 2:38 PM on July 6, 2012

Try HIIT (high intensity interval training). There are a bunch of scientific studies that show this is as effective as doing hours of low/medium intensity aerobic cardio exercise. It causes fat loss and an increase in aerobic fitness, and well as improving lots of other stuff, such as insulin sensitivity.

Get on a stationary bike and go as hard as you can for 8-10 secs. Then go slow & recover for 8-10s. Then repeat for 20 minutes (that's 60 x 20 secs). Do a 5 min warm up at the start and a 5 min cool down at the end. In 30 mins, your workout is done. Do it 3 times per week. You can also use a rower - anything that gets your limbs moving very fast.

Because it goes against years of wisdom about aerobic exercise, people who don't read the raw scientific literature will tell you it doesn't work, but there is heaps of hard scientific evidence.

Take a look at this review article if you want an idea about this research: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jobes/2011/868305/

Note that it begins with the statement: "The effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible; however, other forms of exercise may have a greater impact on body composition. For example, emerging research examining high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) indicates that it may be more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal body fat than other types of exercise."

I took the suggested protocol from Boutcher's latest paper.
posted by JeanDupont at 6:27 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I came here to recommend the interval training too. When I lost a lot of weight, I was doing intervals on the treadmill and elliptical, and lifting weights.

I also watched what I ate, and had some standard meals I ate a lot that were easy and healthy, like a breakfast smoothie and spinach chicken salad. Once a week I had a free day where I'd eat whatever I wanted.

Then I started my own business and stopped exercising and started stress eating. One of my goals is to get back on my exercise/eating program.
posted by Melsky at 3:12 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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