Can Fat Turn into Muscle?
December 10, 2012
If you drop a coin off the empire state building, it could kill someone. The Great Wall of China is visible from space. Humans only use 10% of their brains.
These are myths people insist on believing even though they were debunked long ago. We could add to the list of debunked myths the idea that fat turns into muscle.
Occasionally, a fitness magazine headlines a workout that “turns fat into muscle.” But publishers do this because it sells copies; not because it’s true. Fat and muscle are two different tissues. You could no sooner turn one into the other than you could turn milk into meat.
Now, if you’re carrying extra fat around, there’s no need to feel discouraged. Fat may not turn into muscle. But you can definitely shed fat and build lean muscle in its place. Keep reading to learn how.
What is Muscle?
“It would be impossible for you to do anything without your muscles,” says Craig Freudenrich, PhD. “They are efficient at turning fuel into motion, they are long-lasting, they are self-healing and they are able to grow stronger with practice.”
Most people only think of the muscles they can see, which are skeletal muscles. When you exercise or lift weights, skeletal muscles are contracted and strengthened.
If you could look at a skeletal muscle cross-section, you’d see several strands of fibers. In fact, skeletal muscles closely resemble a large power cable. Muscle fibers are made of myofilaments, which are made of protein.
When you exercise, the number of myofilaments in each muscle fiber increases. As a result, your muscles become larger and stronger and your body requires more energy to maintain the new muscles. This causes your metabolism to speed up and burn more calories for muscle fuel.
What is Fat?
Fat tissue is made of fat cells, which are different than all the other cells in your body. Think of fat cells as little bags containing a large drop of fat (about 85% of the cell volume). When you gain fat, your body isn’t creating more fat cells. It’s storing more fat in the existing fat cells, which causes them–and you–to expand.
Exercise, weight lifting, and physical activity increase your body’s need for energy. Carbohydrates are the first energy supply your body turns to. When this supply is exhausted, your body turns to fat cells.
Through metabolism, fat cells are broken down and burned. Not only does this give you more energy, it causes you to lose fat and weight.
How to Burn Fat by Building Muscle
What do you think: Can fat cells and tissues turn into muscle cells and fibers? The idea is absolutely implausible. But there is a reasonable alternative:
- Burn Fat
- Increase Your Energy
- Lose Weight
- Build Muscle
- Boost Metabolism
If you’re not sure of the best way to proceed, here are a couple tips:
1. Cardio Burns Calories Fast
Cardio exercises such as walking, jogging, and peddling demand lots of energy. The faster you go; the more energy your body needs to keep up with the demand. Calories are a unit of measure for energy. They come from the food you eat and the carbs and fat stored within your body.
Want to know the fastest way to burn calories with cardio? Forget the long, slow workouts a tortoise would be proud of. When it comes to a fast calorie burn, the hare had it right. Intense, short workouts are the fastest way to burn calories, a recent study shows.
In the study, some people did 30 minutes of intense cardio and others did 50 minutes of moderate cardio, 5 days a week. The group doing shorter workouts burned more calories, lost more fat, and spent 100 fewer minutes working out each week.
2. Resistance Builds Muscle and Boosts Metabolism
The fastest way to build muscle is to focus on large muscle groups, says Adam Campbell, the fitness director at Men’s Health. These groups include muscles in your back,arms, legs, and chest.
Free weights such as dumbbells and barbells replicate natural movement, so they are safer than machines. Here are 5 excellent muscle-building exercises, most of which can be done with free weights:
- Bench Press or Chest Press
- Military Press
- Straight Leg Deadlifts
Allowing your muscles to recover is just as important as exercising them. Give each exercised muscle group at least on day to recover. This includes getting enough sleep each night. Also be sure to drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious diet.
Finding the Right Balance
Myth: you can turn fat into muscle. Fact: you can burn fat and build muscle with the right diet and exercise. Just be aware, if you try burning fat and building muscle at the same time, there may be a few challenges.
For example, cutting calories helps you lose fat faster. However, calories are essential for building and strengthening muscle. If you try cutting calories and building muscle at the same time, you won’t progress very quickly and you could do some damage to your body.
Also, cardio exercises are great for burning fat, but not building muscle. “If you want to build muscle as quickly as possible, only use cardio for a brief 2-5 minute warm-up,” says Ben Greenfield, a certified trainer, nutritionist, and fitness coach. The reason why is cardio burns up the calories that would otherwise be used to build muscle.
Perhaps, a better strategy than burning fat and building muscle simultaneously is this: Shed extra body fat through a low-calorie diet and intense cardio exercises. And then, focus on building muscle with resistance exercise and a nutritious diet.
-  Coker, Robert H, Rick H Williams, et al. “Influence of Exercise Intensity on Abdominal Fat and Adiponectin in Elderly Adults.” Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. 7.4 (2009): 363-8.