When you’re working to lose weight, what you really want to do is lose fat and build muscle. The reason behind this is that muscle:
- Burns more calories at rest. 3X as much actually, which means you can lose more weight with less effort
- Takes up less space than fat, which helps you fit into your old clothes faster regardless of the number on the scale
Bottom line, building muscle while losing fat makes it easier to maintain your weight loss because you don’t have to work as hard to burn the same number of calories.
Here are two misconceptions that I’m going to bust before moving on to what you need to know:
- You’ll end up looking like a man if you build muscle: You’re not going to end up looking like a muscle man if you make the effort to build (or maintain) your muscle mass while losing fat to get to your goal. More on that below…
- You can turn muscle into fat: One global misconception is that you can turn fat into muscle, so I’ll continue this post by telling you that it isn’t possible to do that. You can lose fat and build muscle, but you can’t convert one to the other.
Now let’s dive into what you need to know about losing fat and building muscle…
Facts about losing fat
#1: It doesn’t happen overnight
Fat is surprisingly very resilient. It wants to stick to your ribs and it wants to continue propagating and growing within your body. This is why consistent action is a must, even when it seems like the results are not coming as fast as you would like.
#2: It might not read on the scale immediately
Before you start your journey to losing fat or before you begin the work required to break your fat loss plateau, you need to know that progress happens even when the numbers on the scale aren’t moving. Fat weighs less than muscle, and when you’re eating healthy and exercising regularly, you’ll be building muscle. This is what fitness professionals mean when they say your body composition is changing.
#3: You need to track different things
Since you might not be able to rely on the scale 100% to track your fat loss progress, you’ll need to focus on other metrics of success. There are two particularly effective ways to track progress.
The first alternative way to track your progress is using your measurements. Like I mentioned earlier, the beautiful thing about muscle is that it takes up less space than fat. Yes, it weighs more, but the dense nature of muscle makes it leaner and that’s what will give you the toned look you’re after. So taking your inch measurements every two weeks will help you tell if you’re still reducing like you want to regardless of what the scale says.
If your inch measurements are staying static and the scale isn’t moving, or it’s going up, then you’ll want to go back to the drawing board and make the needed changes to your plan.
The second alternative to track your progress is to use a signal outfit. A signal outfit is just what the name implies, it “signals if you’re making progress or not.” It could be a dress that you’ve been wanting to fit into for a long time, a dress that you used to fit into, a pair of hot pants that you know would look great on the body that you’re working towards, or your favorite jeans. The signal outfit works similar to the measurements because it helps you focus on whether your body is getting smaller regardless of what the scale is saying, it can also help you avoid defining yourself by the number on the scale.
Again, if the fit of the signal outfit isn’t changing, then you’ll want to go back to the drawing board.
Now let’s move on to muscle…
Facts about building muscle
#4: You have to exercise (strength train) to build it
Building muscle requires that you literally tear it down so that it can build back up bigger, more resilient, and stronger. And to tear it down, you need to strength train. This means using weights that challenge you.
You don’t necessarily need to lift heavy weights or workout for hours and hours to get the muscle-building benefits of strength training; you just need to challenge your muscles and this can be as simple as doing different variations of the same body-weight exercise. This is my preferred method.
#5: You build it on rest days
You might be tempted to go hard and strength train everyday to get the benefits. Don’t do this; it’s counterproductive. The interesting thing about muscle is that the magic happens on rest days when you’re not working the muscles.
When you do strength training exercises that challenge your muscle appropriately, you get tears in the muscle which signal your body to send repair soldiers to the tear-site.
This triggers inflammation and this is why you might gain weight a little after you initially start strength training from water-retention within the muscle. This is also why you feel sore after your first few rounds of a new workout. After the repair, your muscles get stronger, bigger, and ready for even more of a challenge.
#6: It won’t make you look manly (I promise)
One of the reasons that a lot of us women shun strength training as part of our routines is because we’re convinced that it would make us look manly. I addressed the issue of lifting weights making you look like a man, and you can click here to read it. But the gist is this – You won’t look like a man from strength training if you don’t eat and train to look like a man.
Your body isn’t made this way and those women in muscle mags who looked jacked, look that way because they want to.
Now that you understand the basics of losing fat and building muscle it’s time to take action.
Take action on what you just learned
Now that you understand what you want to lose (fat and not muscle) to lose the weight for good, it’s time to set the wheels in motion to help you do that.
Go beyond the facts and dive into the eight tools that’ll help you lose fat and build muscle without dieting!
In You Don’t Need a Diet, I break down why diets don’t work to help you get healthy and lose fat, but I also share the eight tools you need to get results without dieting + how to get started no matter how busy you are.