Building muscle is great for your health -- and your appearance -- but gaining so much muscle that you don't see a difference on the scale can be frustrating. Don't worry -- muscle gains typically level out after a few weeks, at which point you'll start seeing more fat loss on the scale. In the meantime, take the opportunity to examine your diet and exercise program to make sure you're doing all you can to safely accelerate fat loss.
Benefits of Building Muscle
Building muscle, even if you're not actually losing weight according to your scale, benefits your health -- and puts you on track for long-term weight management. Muscle tissue is highly metabolically active, and accounts for about 20 percent of your daily calorie burn. Fat, in contrast, accounts for only around 5 percent of your daily calorie burn. As you gain more muscle, you'll increase your metabolism, so you can eat more each day without putting on weight.
Gaining muscle also improves your body composition, a term for the ratio of lean tissues, like muscle and bone, to the fat tissue in your body. Poor body composition -- having a high body fat percentage -- poses a health risk, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other obesity-related illnesses. Adding muscle to your frame reduces your body fat percentage, even if you don't lose weight, so it helps lower your disease risk.
The Effect of Beginner Gains
When you first start your fitness program, you'll see rapid muscle gains that could prevent you from losing weight. Those rapid "newbie gains" might mean that a man could build even 20 pounds of muscle in a relatively short time frame, writes bodybuilding expert Jason Ferruggia on his website. As a result, you might not see any changes in your actual body weight if you're gaining 20 pounds of muscle as you simultaneously lose 20 pounds of fat, even though you've made a huge change to your physique. And while most women don't have the muscle-building capacity of the average man, women can still gain muscle relatively quickly on a new workout program, too. Those newbie gains won't last forever, though; as you continue to train, your muscle gains will slow down, and you'll start to see your weight go down as you continue to lose body fat.
Adjusting Your Diet for Weight Loss
If you're concerned that you're not reducing your body weight, consider tweaking your diet to allow for more weight loss. Try reducing your calorie intake to 500 less than you need daily. For example, a 27-year-old man who is 5 feet,11 inches tall, 170 pounds and moderately active needs roughly 3,150 calories to maintain weight. Reducing his calorie intake to 2,650 calories daily would mean he'll cut 3,500 calories per week, enough to lose one pound. Use an online calculator or consult a physician or nutrition professional to get your estimated calorie burn; then subtract 500 calories to achieve slow weight loss that won't significantly affect your muscle mass.
Eat plenty of protein as you lose weight -- multiply your weight, in pounds, by 0.8 to calculate how many grams of protein you need daily -- and keep strength training as you cut calories. That will help keep your metabolism high and preserve muscle tissue, so you'll still look fit and muscular once you've lost excess fat.
Assess Your Fitness With Other Measurements
The number on the scale isn't the only insight into your health. As you gain muscle, you'll likely notice major differences in how you look and feel, even if the scale hasn't budged. Measure your progress by judging how your clothes fit, or how many inches you shed from your midsection or lower body. For example, changing your body composition to reduce your waist size can mean you've made a big impact on your health, since a waist size larger than 35 or 40 inches for women and men, respectively, signals a higher risk of obesity-related diseases. You can also boost your motivation by focusing on fitness-centric goals. Focusing on whether you can jump higher, run a faster mile or squat a heavier weight can keep you feeling energized at the gym, even if your weight doesn't change.