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Myths about Muscle and Fat

It is a complete myth that you can turn fat into muscle, because they are completely different tissues that cannot convert themselves into the other. To understand why, here is some information about the differences between muscle and fat.

Body Fat

Body weight accumulates when we eat more calories than we expend. The calories you consume in protein, carbohydrates, or fat all get stored as body fat if your body doesn't need them for energy. When we eat more than we need for energy, we build up these stores so that they can be used for energy later should the body need it.

It's interesting to note that we have a number of fat cells in our body that doesn't usually change over time. While fat cells may divide, they are most likely to simply grow if we eat too much. If we eat just the right amount, they stay as they are. If we expend calories or eat less than we need, our fat cells shrink in size. Which way they will go is completely dependent on calories in and calories burned every day.

When we expend or "burn" calories through exercise or any kind of activity at all (remember, housework counts!), we can shrink our fat cells and our love handles. Unfortunately, you cannot "spot train" the love handles away by exercising just that area. Muscular training does not eliminate or "convert" fat. The way to do it is to burn more calories than you consume, which will reduce body fat all over your body, all at once. It's the only way it works.


Muscle and fat are very different tissues. Each muscle is composed of thousands of fibres, which do not change in number over time. The fibres have the potential to increase in size and efficiency. Increased size and efficiency means increased strength or endurance for you. Unlike fat, however, muscle fibre improvements have nothing to do with calories in or out. These changes are based on using the muscles, through exercise training or daily activity, in a way that stresses them so they will react by growing stronger. If you don't stress the muscles in any way, they will not grow. It's important to also note that you cannot stress the muscles in the same way every time and continuously get stronger. Once your muscles have adapted to the stress, you must increase the load by stressing them more intensely or for longer times, in order to continue to stimulate them to grow.

We see concurrent changes in our body fat and muscular strength not because one tissue is being converted into the other. When we exercise, we burn calories and if we burn more calories than we consume, our fat cells will shrink making us lose body fat. At the same time, when we exercise, we stress our muscles, causing muscle fibres to grow in strength and efficiency. So there are two separate processes going on, both of which are under your control. You can simply restrict your calorie intake, and not exercise, which will make your body use the energy from fat and possibly reduce your body fat. That alone won't do anything for your muscles, however, and you could end up looking (and feeling) flabby. Adding exercise to the mix causes those nice shapely muscles to develop and show themselves off. More importantly, improved muscular strength and endurance makes you feel great and have more energy to do the activities you usually do.

To summarise:

  • Fat cannot be converted into muscle and muscle cannot be converted into fat.
  • Body weight will be gained if you consume more calories than you expend.
  • Body weight will be lost if you consumer fewer calories than you expend.
  • If you exercise but still eat more calories than you expend, you will still gain body weight.
  • You cannot "spot reduce" fat areas by exercising that particular area of the body. Fat cells reduce as a whole, all over your body, when you burn more than you consume.
  • Muscle cells only grow in strength if they are stressed beyond their normal daily stresses.
  • Weight lifting is an excellent way to stress the muscles individually to become stronger and more efficient.
  • Unlike fat areas of the body, you can target individual muscle areas to become stronger, simply by working those areas repeatedly.
  • If the muscles are covered with a layer of body fat, you may not see the results of your weight lifting as easily. That's why it's best to combine a sensible diet or moderate calorie restriction if you need to lose weight, along with weight training to show off those toned muscles.
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