Fitness 411: Turning Fat Into Muscle

Is it a locker room myth, or an attainable goal?
Jennifer CohenFit in a Minute

Q: I’ve been hearing people talk about how they can turn body fat into muscle through regular exercise. Is that really possible?

A:This is one of the biggest, most enduring misconceptions about exercise! Here’s the cold, hard truth: It’s physiologically impossible to turn fat into muscle because they’re two entirely different types of body tissue with different types of cells (fat is made up of adipose tissue, while muscle is made of proteins). So fat is fat and muscle is muscle. One can’t be transformed into the other any more easily than tin or aluminum can be converted into gold or silver.

Here’s where I think the misconception comes from: When people crank up their cardio and strength-training workouts and make healthy changes to their eating habits, they often experience changes in their body composition—and they assume it’s because their bodies are converting fat to muscle. It’s more likely that their bodies are burning fat as fuel (especially through cardio workouts) and adding muscle mass (through resistance training), which creates the impression that one form of tissue is being converted into the other. In reality, these changes are occurring simultaneously.

In other words, you can simultaneously get two different benefits from eating well and exercising regularly. It’s a two-fer that will make you look better, improve your health, and burn more calories every day even when you’re not exercising. After all, lean muscle mass burns more calories than body fat does, even when you’re just sitting around or surfing the Web.

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