Losing fat gets a lot of attention, but building muscle has a huge impact on your wellness. Here’s what getting stronger does for you.
● IT SPEEDS UP YOUR METABOLISM.
Muscle mass determines your basal metabolic rate – the number of calories you burn while you’re at rest. “The more muscle you have an the more active it is, the higher your metabolic rate will be,” Keith says.
That means you can eat more without gaining weight.
● IT GIVES YOU ENERGY.
Workouts build the most important muscle in your body: your heart. “Exercise makes your heart muscle bigger and stronger, which enables you to work out harder and longer,” Keith says.
More muscle mass also makes physical activity feel easier, found research in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
● IT HELPS YOU LIVE LONGER.
Muscle mass is a better predictor of longevity than BMI, a long-term study in The American Journal of Medicine revealed. Yes, exercise itself prevents disease. But if you do get sick, having stronger muscles helps your body cope with the strain of illness better so that you can recover faster.
● MUSCLE CAN TURN INTO FAT, AND VICE VERSA.
The two are entirely different tissues and can’t magically morph into each other. However, if you stop working out, your fat cells will get bigger and your muscle fibres will shrink, which is why you may notice some extra jiggle.
● EATING FAT MAKES YOU FAT.
The opposite: Healthy fat helps keep you lean. People eating a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil and nuts lost more weight than those on a low-fat diet, The Lancet reports. “These foods, as well as fish, avocado and olives, contain omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats, and monounsaturated fats that are heart-healthy and fill you up so you don’t overeat,” Michele explains.
Just watch your portion sizes. “Eating more calories than you use each day will lead to fat storage,” says sports medicine physician Dr Jordan Metzl.
● YOU CAN SPOT-REDUCE FAT.
“When your body needs energy, it pulls from all of your fat cells, not just the areas you want to target,” Michele says. In other words, to lose fat from any place, you have to lose fat from every place.
Another sad truth: The first place where you gain fat typically is the last place you’ll lose it. “When you put fat on easily in one area, it means your body is best able to store it there,” Keith says. The good news: If your backside starts to shrink, you can always make it curvier by building muscle (hello, squats!).
● MUSCLE WEIGHS MORE THAN FAT.
A kilo of fat and a kilo of muscle weigh exactly the same. But – and this is where the confusion comes in – the volume of muscle is denser and more compact. “It would take 2kg of muscle to fill the space of ½kg of fat,” Michele says.
That’s why you may see yourself becoming slimmer without the number on the scale dropping.
● YOU CAN’T GAIN MUSCLE AND LOSE FAT AT THE SAME TIME.
To shed fat, you have to burn more calories than you take in. But when you do that, your body also burns some muscle. As a result, it’s common to lose muscle mass as you lose weight.
The way to prevent this is to eat more protein, say scientists from McMaster University. Their study found that people who did so while on a high-intensity weight-training regimen were able to gain muscle mass and ditch fat. “Getting enough protein provides your body with the amino acids it needs so that it doesn’t have to break down muscle for them,” says study author Stuart Phillips. Based on his research, a 63.5kg woman would have to consume at least 25g of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner to maintain muscle mass while losing weight (that’s around 0.4g of protein per kilo of body weight at each meal).