Can Muscle and Fat Turn Into Each Other?

I know I said I’d post some stretches for work today, but I decided (too late) to add some pictures. That post will be up early next week.

In the mean time, there is a prevalent myth that if you lift weights and gain strength (and therefore gain muscle), when you stop lifting weights, the muscle turns into fat.

The same myth in reverse purports that when you start lifting weights, you are turning fat into muscle.

Muscle does not turn into fat.

Fat does not turn into muscle.

The cells in our body are specialized. Kidney cells don’t turn into stomach cells. Tongue cells don’t turn into tooth cells. Lots of evidence on the freeway that nothing turns into brain cells.

Fat cells are only fat, have only ever been fat, and will only ever be fat. With the exception of a precious few windows of growth (the last one being late prepubescence), they don’t go away, either. When you lose weight, the fat cells shrink – they don’t disappear. When you gain weight, the fat cells don’t multiply – they increase in size.

If you are sedentary, have a fair amount of body fat, and you start lifting weights, you are probably going to both lose fat and gain muscle. You will lose fat as a result of exercising (for a variety of reasons, but mostly, you’re burning more calories). You will gain strength as a result of weight training. But they are two separate functions and happen independently.

Likewise, if you stop lifting weights and continue to eat as if you were still burning more calories, you’re going to lose muscle (as a result of no weight lifting) and you’re going to gain fat. But they happen independently.

It is completely possible to gain muscle and fat. Start weight lifting, and eat more.

It is possible to lose muscle and fat. Lay on the couch for two weeks on a broth diet.

(I am not recommending either of those paths, just pointing out that they are both possible.)

Have we settled this? Now you are informed, and you can inform others. Fat is fat. Muscle is muscle.

Do we believe that weight training is going to give us big muscles, ladies? Should I tackle that one, too?


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dana on 16 April 2011 at 20:35

    So this got me to thinking that lipo should technically work long term, right? If you can’t lose fat cells then when you physically remove them, you should be thinner long term, or do the remaining fat cells just take up the extra space and get super BIG?

    • It would work to remove some cells, but the ones that are left can still grow.

      If you are a healthy weight and have an appropriate number of fat cells when you’re 20, you can still be obese at 40.

      The only long-term solution that works is diet and exercise (much to the dismay of many!).

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