“Turn fat into muscle!” You’ve probably heard the claim by major tabloids, health products, or exercise programs before. But can you actually convert fat into muscle?
The answer is no. Definitely not.
The truth is that the process of burning fat is completely different from the process of building muscle. Although the two processes are related to each other, to claim that fat can turn into muscle is an enormous oversimplification of what actually happens.
Muscle mass and fat are two very different things. Muscle is actually an active tissue that burns calories 24/7– even when you sleep! The more you move, the more calories you burn. However, fat is simply a storage of excess energy. Its sole purpose in your body is to store energy until your body needs to use it. While some amount of body fat is necessary to stay healthy, most of us don’t need to worry about a deficit of fat. That’s why it’s important to know what’s happening in your body with fat and muscle to be able to make the best health decisions for you.
To help you understand what’s really going on in your body with fat and muscle, we’ll break down the processes for you.
How to Build Muscle
Muscles are built when they are broken down. In other words, you must place more stress on your muscles than they’re accustomed to for them to grow.
Your body adapts to any stress you put on it. For example, if you increase the amount of weight you lift or the distance you run, you’re causing damage to your muscle fibers. From there, your brain is triggered to send satellite cells to repair the damaged fibers. Because your body adapts to stress as you continue to exercise, you’ll need to make adjustments to your workouts in order to see continued muscle growth. That, added with the right amount of macronutrients such as protein and carbs, will build muscle mass.
This is why it’s recommended to eat protein and glycogen– which your muscles use for energy –immediately after your workout session. This will help build new muscle, so long as you keep up your protein intake.
How to Burn Fat
Burning fat is a completely separate process from stressing your body with physical activity and triggering your body to build muscle. With fat, it’s a matter of creating a calorie deficit.
The basic principle is this: if your body is using more calories for energy than you’re consuming through food, then it has to use other forms of stored energy to keep you going. This often means burning fat for fuel.
So here are some ways to create a calorie deficit:
- Cut calories out from your diet (but no more than 500 calories per day)
- Increase exercise to burn calories while maintaining the same daily caloric intake
- Eat slightly fewer calories each day and burn slightly more calories through exercise
More Tips for Burning Fat
Research has shown that the best strategy for burning fat is a combination of diet and exercise. In other words, being mindful of both your caloric intake and caloric output.
Strength training and low-intensity forms of exercise such as walking, jogging, or bike riding tend to burn more fat. The more muscle mass you can add to your body, the higher your metabolic rate– which means the more calories your body burns at rest. Higher intensity exercise can help you burn more calories overall in a shorter amount of time (think HIIT workouts).
But while exercise is great for your body, focusing on exercise alone won’t burn a ton of fat. Remember– burning fat is about creating a deficit. That means you have to be consuming fewer calories than you’re burning to lose fat and the calories you’re consuming need to be healthy.
Best foods to pair with exercise for the purpose of fat-burning:
- Lean beef
- Junk food/greasy food
While fat and muscle are related, the loss of fat does not directly lead to the growth of muscle. The best way to lose fat and gain muscle is to combine a healthy diet with exercise that puts stress on your muscles, and to create a caloric deficit. Remember that it’s always easier to change your habits when you’re not going it alone! So make it a habit to exercise with a friend, family member, or coworker a few times a week while also eating the recommended foods above for a healthy caloric intake.
Want more tips on healthy living? Sign up to Community Strong St. Charles for more resources straight to your inbox!