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Muscle or Fat?

The most common excuse I hear from people failing to lose weight initially in the gym is that they are putting on muscle. What a load of crap! If it was that easy to put on muscle we’d all look like Greek Gods. It’s simply not possible to add enough muscle mass, relative to fat loss, to gain weight.

Sure resistance training adds lean muscle mass, that’s why we do it, but sadly it’s a long slow road.

Not everyone builds muscle at the same rate. Some people are genetically predisposed to gaining lean muscle mass and will see impressive results after only a few months. Others will build muscle more slowly. There are also external factors that will influence your progress. Not many people can afford to do nothing but train, eat and sleep. Work, holidays, illness and injury all get in the way.

So, how much muscle can we realistically expect to gain? Researchers from the Netherlands measured an increase of between 0.3 and 1.6 kilograms of lean muscle in men who followed a 12 week weight training program. Not much is it, and if it takes twelve weeks for someone with good genes to put on 1.6 kilograms of muscle over a twelve week period then I don’t think that the 2 kilos you put on last week was muscle gain, do you.

On a more positive note, if you have recently started a weight training program and have put on weight instead of losing it, rest assured that you are not alone and that short term it’s not all bad.

When you start exercising, your body begins storing more fuel in your muscle cells to power your workouts. To convert the carbohydrates that you have consumed, into glycogen that your muscles can store, requires three molecules of water for every molecule of glucose. As your muscles are building up glycogen stores, your body is retaining extra water. One litre of water equals approximately 1 kilogram on the scales. The result can be a small initial weight gain, or lack of weight loss, but this will settle over time.

One of the difficulties with building lean muscle mass, particulary if your goal is weight loss, is that consuming an adequate number of calories can lead to an unwanted increase in fat.

Studies show that for every 2.3 kilograms of muscle you gain you should expect to put on between 0.9 and 2.3 kilograms of fat. The amount of fat you gain depending on how much you eat and on how lean you are to start with.

While it is true that you require additional calories to build muscle, you can only assimilate so much at a time. Anything above this is going to end up where you want it the least, around your middle or on your hips and thighs. It is important to take a smart approach to your muscle building program by planning and keeping track of your food intake, eating only lean whole foods and avoiding fast food and alcohol.

You have to remember that even while building muscle your goal is still to lose weight. An increase in weight or failure to lose weight, after an initial settling in period means that you are doing something wrong!


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