Conflicting Advice from Seemingly Knowledgeable People

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"You can't build muscle while eating at a deficit."

^ It makes sense, and I believe it to be true.

"Throw the scale out. The number on the scale is no indication of your progress. Take measurements. Even if you're not losing pounds, you might be losing inches."

^ Advice I've given before and try to take myself when I see no losses.

How can both of these be true, though? If it's true that one cannot build muscle while eating at a deficit, then how is the scale not a good indicator of your progress? How are your measurements changing when the scale isn't budging if, in fact, you're not putting on any lean muscle? If you're not gaining muscle and the scale isn't moving, then you're not losing fat, which means you're doing something wrong - right?

Sure, there are temporary fluctuations in weight due to water retention and all that, but going several weeks without seeing a loss certainly can't be blamed on water retention. So, instead of going with the default, "weight loss is not linear" argument, which I also believe is true, let's try to logically explain why the same people are giving these two pieces of advice when they seemingly contradict with one another.

[Let's assume that the person truly IS doing what they've always done. They're weighing/measuring everything, logging every single day, keeping with their TDEE - % calorie goal, etc.]
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Replies

  • Eoghann
    Eoghann Posts: 130 Member
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    Partly because the statements are broadly but not universally true. The problem is they are worded so vaguely.

    You cannot build significant additional muscle without a calorie surplus. However your body actually breaks down and builds new muscle all the time (hopefully making it more efficient). So depending on your condition at the start of the process it is actually possible to build some muscle while in caloric deficit.
  • neanderthin
    neanderthin Posts: 10,018 Member
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    Partly because the statements are broadly but not universally true. The problem is they are worded so vaguely.

    You cannot build significant additional muscle without a calorie surplus. However your body actually breaks down and builds new muscle all the time (hopefully making it more efficient). So depending on your condition at the start of the process it is actually possible to build some muscle while in caloric deficit.
    /end thread. :smile:
  • WalkingAlong
    WalkingAlong Posts: 4,926 Member
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    but going several weeks without seeing a loss certainly can't be blamed on water retention.
    I think it can. I think when someone starts a new, hard exercise regimen they can retain water for months. I did.

    There is also this 'effect' referred to in the link below, which I've seen reported on diet forums for a dozen years and also experience it myself, so I believe there's something going on with it.
    http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/of-whooshes-and-squishy-fat.html
  • DerekVTX
    DerekVTX Posts: 287 Member
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    I am at a 7000 calorie a week defecit but eat a lot of protien.

    1. My biceps are much bigger now and my pecs are much more defined
    2. Arm curl bar has gone up from 70 to 90 lbs for a set of 10
    3. Fly machine has gone from 100 to 150 for a set of 10
    4. Tricept pushdown from 50 to 60 for a set of 10
    5. I can run fair distances now without getting out of breath.

    I'm stronger now.............think I have gained some muscle.
  • ninerbuff
    ninerbuff Posts: 48,687 Member
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    Muscle efficiency also requires more glycogen storage which is directly linked to weight retention even though one is in deficit.

    A.C.E. Certified Group Fitness and Personal Trainer
    IDEA Fitness member
    Kickboxing Certified Instructor
    Been in fitness for 30 years and have studied kinesiology and nutrition
  • 12by311
    12by311 Posts: 1,716 Member
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    I am at a 7000 calorie a week defecit but eat a lot of protien.

    1. My biceps are much bigger now and my pecs are much more defined
    2. Arm curl bar has gone up from 70 to 90 lbs for a set of 10
    3. Fly machine has gone from 100 to 150 for a set of 10
    4. Tricept pushdown from 50 to 60 for a set of 10
    5. I can run fair distances now without getting out of breath.

    I'm stronger now.............think I have gained some muscle.

    Amazing progress.

    But I think you are confusing strength and endurance gains with mass gains. They are not the same thing.

    However you are significantly over weight or new to exercise you may be making small gains.

    Keep it going!
  • DerekVTX
    DerekVTX Posts: 287 Member
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    I am at a 7000 calorie a week defecit but eat a lot of protien.

    1. My biceps are much bigger now and my pecs are much more defined
    2. Arm curl bar has gone up from 70 to 90 lbs for a set of 10
    3. Fly machine has gone from 100 to 150 for a set of 10
    4. Tricept pushdown from 50 to 60 for a set of 10
    5. I can run fair distances now without getting out of breath.

    I'm stronger now.............think I have gained some muscle.

    Amazing progress.

    But I think you are confusing strength and endurance gains with mass gains. They are not the same thing.

    However you are significantly over weight or new to exercise you may be making small gains.

    Keep it going!

    Thanks bud. If my Body Fat % calculator and my calculations are accurate I believe I have dropped 59 lbs of fat and gained 8 lbs of muscle in just under 6 months.
  • Hornsby
    Hornsby Posts: 10,322 Member
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    Partly because the statements are broadly but not universally true. The problem is they are worded so vaguely.

    You cannot build significant additional muscle without a calorie surplus. However your body actually breaks down and builds new muscle all the time (hopefully making it more efficient). So depending on your condition at the start of the process it is actually possible to build some muscle while in caloric deficit.

    This...
  • 12by311
    12by311 Posts: 1,716 Member
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    I am at a 7000 calorie a week defecit but eat a lot of protien.

    1. My biceps are much bigger now and my pecs are much more defined
    2. Arm curl bar has gone up from 70 to 90 lbs for a set of 10
    3. Fly machine has gone from 100 to 150 for a set of 10
    4. Tricept pushdown from 50 to 60 for a set of 10
    5. I can run fair distances now without getting out of breath.

    I'm stronger now.............think I have gained some muscle.

    Amazing progress.

    But I think you are confusing strength and endurance gains with mass gains. They are not the same thing.

    However you are significantly over weight or new to exercise you may be making small gains.

    Keep it going!

    Thanks bud. If my Body Fat % calculator and my calculations are accurate I believe I have dropped 59 lbs of fat and gained 8 lbs of muscle in just under 6 months.

    I really didn't mean to sound like an - - - .

    I meant IF you are significantly overweight. :-/
  • vismal
    vismal Posts: 2,463 Member
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    Thanks bud. If my Body Fat % calculator and my calculations are accurate I believe I have dropped 59 lbs of fat and gained 8 lbs of muscle in just under 6 months.
    Your calculator is not accurate. What you are describing isn't possible without using a boatload of PED's. Gaining 8 lbs of muscle while eating in a surplus is a pretty decent goal for 6 months. Gaining 8 lbs of muscle while at the same time losing almost 60 lbs is impossible. What kind of device are you using to track body fat?
  • Aaron_K123
    Aaron_K123 Posts: 7,122 Member
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    Both can be true because fat and muscle aren't the only variables in your body weight. Water is a very large component of that.

    Over long periods of time the scale IS a good indicator of progress while dieting. Over short time periods it is not simply because of bodyweight fluctuations due to water retention.

    When people give the advice "throw out the scale" it is usually given to people who are freaking out because they weigh 2 pounds more than they did yesterday. At that point they are clearly causing themselves emotional strife for no good reason and the options are either to try to explain it and hope they get over the psychological fear response of seeing their weight go up or alternatively just suggest that they ignore the scale and go off different measures of progress such as a tape measurer.

    Now if someone gives the advice "Throw out your scale" to someone who says over the period of two months their scale weight hasn't changed while dieting then yeah they are giving bad advice in my opinion.
  • SingRunTing
    SingRunTing Posts: 2,604 Member
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    Both can be true because fat and muscle aren't the only variables in your body weight. Water is a very large component of that.

    Over long periods of time the scale IS a good indicator of progress while dieting. Over short time periods it is not simply because of bodyweight fluctuations due to water retention.

    When people give the advice "throw out the scale" it is usually given to people who are freaking out because they weigh 2 pounds more than they did yesterday. At that point they are clearly causing themselves emotional strife for no good reason and the options are either to try to explain it and hope they get over the psychological fear response of seeing their weight go up or alternatively just suggest that they ignore the scale and go off different measures of progress such as a tape measurer.

    this this this this this this this

    Seriously, this.
  • likitisplit
    likitisplit Posts: 9,420 Member
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    Also, if you aren't losing pounds, then you probably aren't in a deficit. Which means that your calorie consumption might be wobbling above and below maintenance, which is the "recomp" zone.

    Recomping isn't a bad place to be in, if you're in a normal weight range.
  • lisalsd1
    lisalsd1 Posts: 1,520 Member
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    What I take the statement: "throw out the scale" to mean is...stop obsessing about a # that really may not mean anything.

    Using a scale can be employed as 1 tool to help measure your progress, BUT it seems like a lot of people get "stuck" thinking that the scale is the end-all-be-all, ONLY way to measure progress.
  • sijomial
    sijomial Posts: 19,811 Member
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    "You can't build muscle while eating at a deficit."

    ^ It makes sense, and I believe it to be true.
    People like to talk in generalisations and absolute terms. There are many groups of people that are well known to be able to build muscle mass in a deficit. It's not a secret!

    It's difficult to build muscle in a deficit.
    Many people cannot build muscle in a deficit.
    It's very easy to sabotage any chance of building muscle in a deficit

    All those are true but it's far from an absolute or impossible to add muscle mass.
  • evileen99
    evileen99 Posts: 1,564 Member
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    Also, how easily your body builds muscle is genetically determined. Some people build new muscle easily and quickly, others hardly at all. THose who build easily can probably make significant gains while eating at a deficit; the rest of us, not so much.

    "A landmark study by Hubal used 585 male and female human subjects and showed that twelve weeks of progressive dynamic exercise resulted in a shockingly wide range of responses.

    The worst responders lost 2% of their muscle cross-sectional area and didn't gain any strength whatsoever. The best responders increased muscle cross-sectional area by 59% and increased their 1RM strength by 250%. Keep in mind these individuals were subjected to the exact same training protocol.

    The Hubal study isn't the only study showing these types of results. Petrella showed that 16 weeks of progressive dynamic exercise involving 66 human subjects failed to yield any measurable hypertrophy in 26% of subjects."

    "A different article by Bamman using the same researchers involving the exact same experiment showed that out of 66 subjects, the top 17 responders experienced a 58% gain in cross-sectional area, the middle 32 responders gained 28% cross-sectional area, and the bottom 17 responders didn't gain in cross-sectional area."


    Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Jun;37(6):964-72.

    J Appl Physiol (1985). 2008 Jun;104(6):1736-42.

    Physiol Genomics. 2013 Jun 17;45(12):499-507. .
  • Kalikel
    Kalikel Posts: 9,626 Member
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    Children deprived of protein grow and develop muscle. While I lost weight, my arm muscles got bigger. Unsurprising, as they'd never been used much. :)

    I don't know about the scale thing, but I've heard a lot people say it and have no reason to believe they made it up. Until I hear something that 100% convinces me that they're wrong, I'm on the fence.

    I don't worry one little iota about what the fitness gurus preach. I've heard those guys in person. They're often wrong and focus on silly things that make no difference. I heard a couple talking once and I thought, "I have probably forgotten more about muscle contraction than these two yahoos, put together, ever learned." They still had a lot less fat and a lot more muscle.

    It's not the theories that burn fat and build muscle. It's the lifting. :)
  • LiminalAscendance
    LiminalAscendance Posts: 489 Member
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    Children deprived of protein grow and develop muscle.
    What's your point?

    Children (to use your example) without adequate protein will develop less muscle than they should.

    Are you trying to imply that merely because they grow muscle at all, that this refutes something?
    While I lost weight, my arm muscles got bigger. Unsurprising, as they'd never been used much. :)
    No one disputes newbie gains.
    I don't worry one little iota about what the fitness gurus preach. I've heard those guys in person. They're often wrong and focus on silly things that make no difference. I heard a couple talking once and I thought, "I have probably forgotten more about muscle contraction than these two yahoos, put together, ever learned." They still had a lot less fat and a lot more muscle.

    And yet you're the one on a weightloss forum. Makes sense.
  • No_Finish_Line
    No_Finish_Line Posts: 3,661 Member
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    i think its really a combination of all the factors the OP would like to dismiss.

    A little off on your logging of exercise and food so your percieved defecit is inaccurate combined with water retention, and perhaps a number of other less obvious biological reasons that would account for your wieght not decreasing as body fat is burned.

    I understand why you would want to eliminate all the 'X factors' to arrive at the true cause, but i think its all those varibles that are indeed the real reason.

    perhaps the changes are to small to show up on the scale? may also be an indication that you simply don't have much fat left to loose
  • WalkingAlong
    WalkingAlong Posts: 4,926 Member
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    I don't worry one little iota about what the fitness gurus preach. I've heard those guys in person. They're often wrong and focus on silly things that make no difference. I heard a couple talking once and I thought, "I have probably forgotten more about muscle contraction than these two yahoos, put together, ever learned." They still had a lot less fat and a lot more muscle.
    And yet you're the one on a weightloss forum. Makes sense.
    I think many who read here don't listen to 'fitness gurus'. Well, I listen often but I usually roll my eyes. :smile: