'Eat Right' Challenge, Fat - Day 18

Emma White - Nutritionist

We asked fitness expert Helen to share a few body fat related questions she often gets asked by clients.

Is it true that muscle weighs more than fat?

No! A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat (of course!), it's the density that is different. In other words, a pound of fat will take up more space than a pound of muscle, meaning someone with more muscle will look 'tighter'. Comparing volume occupied, you'd get more muscle than fat into the same volume, as it's denser. If you then weighed the two, the muscle would be heavier than fat as you have more of it – which is where the confusing statement of 'muscle weighs more than fat' comes from!

This is why bodyweight alone is not a good indication of how fit and healthy you are or how you look. Two people can weigh the same, but one has a higher percentage of fat and the other a higher percentage of muscle.

High body fat brings a range of health conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure. A high percentage of muscle means strength, a firm body, increased resting metabolic rate – muscle burns calories while you're resting and the development of strong bones.

Keeping track of weight is helpful, but also use body measurements and pictures to track your progress.

What is the best exercise to help lose body fat?

Unfortunately, there is no specific exercise that will result in losing body fat! To lose body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit – you need to be consistently consuming fewer calories than you expend or expending more calories than you consume. This can be done by eating less, increasing your physical activity levels or, ideally, combining the two.

It's essential to include a form of weight training to increase muscle mass – bodyweight if you're very new to exercise, progressing to using weights as you get stronger. Muscle is a very active tissue and will burn calories while you're at rest. It also helps with the development of strong, healthy bones. Don't worry about getting bulky – building muscle is complex, and the 'body building' look that so many people associate with weight training takes a great deal of time and effort!

It's also essential to get your daily steps in – 10,000 a day ideally. Try and build activity into your everyday life – take the stairs rather than a lift, park further away from the supermarket rather than right outside – these forms of exercise count significantly towards calorie expenditure.

Do a form of exercise that raises your heart rate – brisk walking, swimming, running, cycling, exercise classes. These are all important for cardiovascular fitness as well as a way to burn calories.

Finally, choose an exercise you're going to stick to and enjoy – for example, don't force yourself to run if you hate it just because you think it's the best way to burn calories. You'll eventually find yourself looking for every excuse to avoid it!

Can I spot reduce fat in areas of my body, e.g. my stomach?

Sadly not! Where you lose weight from first is primarily determined by your genetics, just as they control how your body fat is distributed in your body (a quick look at your family will give you an idea!). Remember that regardless of how and where your body is 'programmed' to store fat, being in a consistent calorie deficit will result in losing it. It's just that some areas may be slightly more stubborn than others and take a little longer!

If I want to tone up/get lean, do I need to eat a low-fat diet?

Not necessarily. A toned and lean look is achieved by building muscle and losing body fat. To lose body fat, you need to be in a consistent calorie deficit. This doesn't have to be achieved by cutting out or eating a very low-fat diet, healthy fats are essential for the body and many of its functions – just make sure they are not over consumed. No food group has to be cut out to lose fat. To build muscle, you will need to make sure you're eating enough lean protein, as well as doing resistance training (using weights) and getting enough rest between workouts.

Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.

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