(Sometimes a reader will email me a question that needs a full article to answer properly, and sometimes it’s an answer I think many people will benefit from hearing. This is one of those times.)
QUESTION: What’s the best workout and diet for turning my fat into muscle? Also, if you stop working out, is it true that your muscle turns into fat? If so, how do you prevent that from happening?
ANSWER: Alright, it seems we have ourselves a 3-part question. I’m going to try to answer each part separately, but I have a pretty strong feeling that my answer to the first part will also answer the second and third parts.
Let’s see how it goes.
What’s The Best Way To Turn Body Fat Into Muscle?
Well, considering that it’s impossible to turn fat into muscle, I can only guess that some type of magic would need to be involved in the process.
Perhaps some voodoo?
Maybe even superpowers?
Because unfortunately, without that… you’re kinda screwed.
Why? Because fat is fat and muscle is muscle. They are two completely different and completely separate types of tissue, neither of which is capable of somehow transforming into the other.
Fat can only be lost or gained. Muscle can only be lost or gained. And… then… that’s… it. There are no other possibilities. Fat cannot become muscle, and muscle cannot become fat.
Now, you can potentially lose some fat AND gain some muscle at which point it may SEEM like fat “turned into” muscle, but it didn’t. It’s just that one was lost and the other was gained. Nothing more, nothing less.
So… how do you turn fat into muscle? That’s easy: you don’t.
How To Do What You’re Actually Trying To Do
The people who ask this question clearly want two things:
- Less body fat.
- More muscle mass.
To make this happen, they (incorrectly) assume the obvious best way is to turn one into the other, thus achieving 2 goals with 1 physiological process.
In terms of efficiency, they certainly have the right idea. In terms of realistic possibility, they have the wrong idea. It just can’t happen.
The good news, however, is that the 2 goals themselves can most definitely be achieved, just not in some magical “Freaky Friday” one-becomes-the-other process. They need to happen in two separate processes; one that allows existing body fat to be lost (via a caloric deficit) and another that allows new muscle mass to be gained (via a caloric surplus, sufficient protein and an intelligent workout routine that provides a muscle building stimulus… all of which is covered in Superior Muscle Growth).
Some people (namely beginners and people regaining lost muscle) will actually be capable of doing both simultaneously… at least to some degree for some amount of time.
This is a topic I cover in detail here: How To Build Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time
Everyone else who does not fit into that lucky category will instead need to focus on one goal at a time, alternating between periods of losing fat (without losing muscle) and building muscle (without gaining fat).
Does Muscle Turn Into Fat When You Stop Working Out?
No. It Doesn’t. Because it can’t.
What often DOES happen when you stop working out is that you simply lose muscle and gain fat.
Because if you remove the training stimulus that tells your body it needs to keep its muscle mass around (which is what happens when you stop lifting), you will gradually begin to lose that muscle mass. In addition, you end up burning less calories when you stop working out, thus increasing the likelihood of fat being gained.
Not to mention, people who stop working out also tend to drop whatever good eating habits they may have developed… thus causing them to overeat… thus causing them to gain body fat for the same reason anyone ever gains body fat… they’re eating too many calories.
But again, muscle never actually becomes fat.
It’s still just two completely separate processes giving the incorrect impression that it did. Even though it didn’t.
How do you prevent this from happening, you ask?
Well, the only way to prevent muscle from being lost when you stop working out is to… um… not stop working out. I mean, there are certainly ways to minimize muscle loss in a short-term scenario (How To Maintain Muscle When You’re Injured), but if it exceeds a short-term period of time (i.e. a month or longer), there is no way to prevent muscle from being lost.
Preventing body fat from being gained when you stop working out is something that CAN be done by simply ensuring your calorie intake never goes above your maintenance level. Easier said than done for many people, of course.
So, yeah. Muscle cannot turn into fat, or vice versa. Tell your friends.