Does Muscle Weigh More than Fat? Breaking Down the Numbers

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 05/24/2024

It’s a common misconception that muscle weighs more than fat. In reality, muscle weight vs. fat weight is exactly the same — a pound of fat vs a pound of muscle still weighs in at one pound.

The myth that muscle is heavier than fat likely stems from a difference that does exist between fat vs muscle: density. Muscle is denser than fat, which means that if you have one pound of each, fat is going to take up more space than muscle does.

This is important to understand because it helps explain why it's important to focus not just on the number on the scale, but rather on what makes up that number. Read on for a more in-depth explanation of why the rumor that muscle weighs more than fat is totally false.

The answer here is neither — a pound of fat vs a pound of muscle weighs exactly the same. 

However, if you were to ask ‘Is muscle denser than fat?,’ then the answer is yes. While muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat, it does have more volume.

Muscle mass is leaner and more compact in comparison to fat. This makes muscle look different from fat on the body. Imagine a pound of feathers compared to a pound of tangerines — they weigh the same, but the feathers are going to take up a lot more space.

The fact that muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat illustrates why the numbers on the bathroom scale don’t always tell the full story. Even if two people weigh the exact same amount, they could have completely different percentages of fat vs muscle.

For instance, women tend to have more body fat than men, as do older people in comparison to younger people. It’s also possible for people who fall within the range of a normal body mass index (BMI) to have excess body fat, as one study found.

In other words, similarly to the numbers on a scale, BMI may not accurately convey the risks that having a higher amount of body fat can pose.

Health Risks of Body Fat

While some body fat is necessary, too much of it can pose serious health risks.

For instance, the previously mentioned study with 967 participants found that 38% of the women who had 'normal' BMIs had too high an amount of fat as well as high cholesterol levels. 

High cholesterol can contribute to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health issues. Your muscle-to-fat ratio can indicate your risk of metabolic syndrome, a term that refers to a group of obesity-related conditions like stroke and diabetes.

Still, you’ll want to have some fat. Healthcare professionals recommend maintaining a body fat percentage between 20 and 30 percent for women and between 12 and 20 percent for men.

Benefits of Having More Muscle

Unlike with fat tissue, there are myriad benefits of having more muscle tissue

In fact, one study with a total of 11,687 participants found that muscle mass is inversely associated with the risk of death. Meanwhile, a review of existing scientific literature concluded that low muscle mass is associated with poor health and a higher risk of mortality.

There’s also evidence to suggest that if you gain muscle when you’re younger, it can help to prevent the loss of bone density and mobility as you age.

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Weight loss treatment that puts you first

To reap the benefits of increased muscle mass, resistance training is key. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends strength training at least twice a week, targeting all major muscle groups. You can do this by lifting weights, or you might try bodyweight exercises like pushups or even yoga to help with building muscle mass.

Regular cardio activity also will help increase fat loss, as burning more calories than the amount you consume is key to losing weight

In addition to strength training, the CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity per week, which could be as simple as walking for weight loss. Or, you can cut down on the time involved by opting for 75 minutes a week of more intense aerobic activity, like running or swimming.

You can also lose body fat by eating a balanced diet, swapping out junk food for healthy snacks and ensuring you’re getting enough protein.

There’s a lot of fact and fiction when it comes to weight loss. One rumor in the mix is that muscle weighs more than fat. Here’s a recap on what the facts are:

  • Does muscle weigh more than fat? Simply put, no. One pound of muscle weighs the same as one pound of fat. However, lean muscle takes up less space than fat.

  • A higher fat-to-muscle ratio translates to an increased risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. Having a higher amount of muscle, on the other hand, can have preventative effects for health.

  • While maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health, building lean muscle mass is also critical. Maintaining a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, whether that’s playing sports or getting in your steps each day, are both important for body composition and weight loss.

If you’re struggling with your weight, remember you don’t have to do it alone. You can consult with a healthcare provider for personalized guidance and to learn more about weight loss tools, like weight loss medications.

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