How To Turn Fat Into Muscle? (And Can Muscle Turn To Fat?)

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 good 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?

Or a wish-granting genie?

Because unfortunately, without that… you’re kinda screwed.

You see, fat is fat and muscle is muscle. They are two very different and separate types of tissue, neither of which is聽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.聽

There are no other possibilities here. Fat cannot become muscle, and muscle cannot become fat. They’re completely different things providing their own unique functions within the human body, similar to how a skin cell is completely different from a brain cell.

Of course, you can potentially lose some fat AND gain some muscle, and it may SEEM like fat “turned into” muscle. But it didn’t. It’s just that one type of tissue was lost and another type of tissue was gained. Nothing more, nothing less.

So… how do you turn fat into muscle? You don’t.

How To Do What You’re Actually Trying To Do

The people who ask this question clearly want two things:

  1. Less body fat.
  2. 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 where existing body fat is lost (via a caloric deficit), and another where new muscle mass is gained (via an effective workout routine that provides a sufficient muscle building stimulus [source] and a diet that supports it… all of which is covered in Superior Muscle Growth).

Some people (primarily beginners and people regaining lost muscle) will actually be capable of doing both simultaneously… at least to some degree and 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

Those who don’t fit into that 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).

This is a topic I cover in detail here: How To Bulk and Cut and Should I Build Muscle Or Lose Fat First?

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.

Why?

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 strength training), you will gradually begin to lose that muscle mass.

In addition, exercise burns calories, so when you stop working out, you end up burning fewer calories than you previously were, which increases the likelihood of fat being gained.

Plus, people who stop working out also tend to stop adhering to their diet and whatever good eating habits they may have developed… which commonly leads to overeating… which commonly leads to body fat being gained for the same reason anyone ever gains body fat: they’re eating too many calories.

But again, muscle never becomes fat at any point in this scenario.

It’s still two completely separate processes – muscle is lost, fat is gained – giving the incorrect impression that it did.

How do you prevent this from happening, you ask?

Well, the only way to truly 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 gradually being lost.

On the other hand, preventing body fat from being gained when you stop working out is something that can be done by simply ensuring your calorie intake doesn’t consistently exceed your maintenance level.

Easier said than done for many people, of course, but still certainly possible.

So, no… muscle cannot turn into fat, or vice versa. Tell your friends. 馃檪

What’s Next?

If you liked this article, you’ll also like:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers and diet professionals at every level.

23 thoughts on “How To Turn Fat Into Muscle? (And Can Muscle Turn To Fat?)”

23 Comments

  1. Yup, great stuff as always. I am curious when you will come out with superior fat loss. Any updates?(I will buy it as soon as it gets released!)

    • Indeed, I have the best SFL update of all: it’s done.

      Now it’s just a matter of editing, proof reading, doing some design stuff for it, setting up the sales page/shopping cart crap, and co-writing the (much shorter) companion book that’s coming along with it. Stay tuned!

      • That’s great news!

        Will the companion book by any chance contain workout routines suitable for fat loss?

        • The main book will cover all of the workout stuff (weight training, cardio, etc.). The companion book will cover something completely separate but equally important. Possibly even more important.

          • Having purchased (and loved) SMG, I’m also greatly looking forward to SFL. Without wanting to seem rude though, the purchase page you currently have for SMG looks kind of like one of those dodgy ‘once in a lifetime deal you don’t want to miss’ ones with all the ticks and crosses and special discounts and headings and money back guarantee stickers and a massively long page etc…
            I’m not sure how much of that you control and how much is just the website but having purchased the book (and having just generally followed your advise provided on AWR), I know its not only legit but that the quality is worlds away from the money grabbing scandals that are the other dodgy looking ones, so just as some feedback, maybe just go for a cleaner “if you’ve liked what you’ve read from me so far then here’s a whole book’s worth more of it” sort of thing? Not sure exactly but this is just the impression I got anyway.
            Thanks for another well-informed read.

          • Oh, trust me, chances are that I hate these types of sales pages more than you do. And the only thing I hate more than seeing/reading them is writing them for my own products. Seriously. It makes me nauseous.

            But, for some crazy reason, the average person needs a sales page like that to buy a product like this. I don’t know why, but they do… which is why they are so commonly used for these types of products.

            I know I certainly don’t need it. And you certainly don’t need it. And most (if not all) of my regular readers don’t need it either. But the average person who Googles something and ends up on an article of mine for the first time… they usually do.

  2. I saw this article on as a notification on my phone waking up in the morning, and I burst out laughing knowing what it would be about. This article gave me a nice entertaining read during my lunch hour. “So, yeah. Muscle cannot turn into fat, or vice versa. Tell your friends.” Thanks Jay!

  3. Man or Woman, I do not know. You are the best. I am always reading and researching to help other people and your articles are on the spot. You explain complex things in layman’s term. Thank you.

  4. I just know what you are going to write about when I read the subject, haha. Good one. Now, waiting for your next book. Any special to those that have purchased your Superior Muscle Growth?

    • Thanks dude. As of right now I’m not planning on any kind of special/discount like that for SFL. Don’t worry though, it’ll still be worth every cent of the full price… I promise.

  5. Thank you for the article. I am a big fan of your writing.

    I had one question regarding this particular piece. Apologies in advance for anything silly I may be about to type. It is my understanding that body does begin to catabolize muscle after a certain period of inactivity. When it is catabolized, muscle is converted into energy, no? Ceteris paribus, wouldn’t this mean that catabolizing muscle lowers your threshold for entering a caloric surplus? If so, this would imply that someone who has built up a large amount of muscle and suddenly stops working out would need to drop their calorie consumption even below what would normally be needed for maintenance, to avoid gaining fat.

    Is there any merit to what I am suggesting? Thank you in advance for clarifying.

    • Are you asking if someone built X pounds of muscle over the span of a few years… then stopped working out for a long enough period of time to lose all of that muscle… would their maintenance level be lower afterwards than it was when they had that muscle? If so, the answer is yes.

      You can also replace muscle with fat in this scenario and the answer would still be yes.

      The more muscle or fat mass a person has on their body, the higher their maintenance level will be. As any of that mass is lost, their maintenance level gradually decreases.

  6. After 10+ years of lifting, how much do you bench, rdl/deadlift, and squat or leg press for the strength rep ranges of 3×6-8? I’m just curious

      • Haha ok. So what are some realistic numbers for the avg lifter while trying to stay in the lower digit fat levels? I’ve noticed I gain a ton of strength on a bulk but whenever I try to cut, strength drops dramatically.

        • Intruding with experience from my own forty-five years of PED-free bodybuilding, as a 5’8″ with 7.875 ankles and 6.625 wrists and extremely short muscle-bellies everywhere who is about 11% bodyfat at 157 lbs…
          1) if I try to cut more than one pound of bodyweight per week, I experience severe strength loss, even though maintaining 150 grams per day of protein
          2) if I cut by one pound-per-week, I still end up considerably weaker when I achieve my 157-lb target bodyweight.
          3) if I try to maintain the same volume per workouts/training week during a cut, I lose more strength and lose it faster.

          I suspect that genetics plays a huge role in how much strength a person loses on a cut, since chronically reduced calories affect energy levels and probably even neural efficiency, among other variables; meaning that, how much strength is lost varies considerably among individuals.

          • PS…meant to add actual numbers of what my genetics yield.
            I am about 11% BF at 157 lbs bodyweight, so I’m a relatively light guy.
            For several years, I’ve cut to 157 then maintain that 157 lbs from Jan 1 to Sept 30 of each year. From Oct 1 through Dec 31, I intentionally add then carry more bodyweight, limiting (the past three or four years now) at 166 lbs. maximum. During that bodyweight increase, all my workout poundages increase.

            When I reduce from the heavier bodyweight to my 157 lbs, which is about a 5% bodyweight drop, I’ve found that I lose between 9% and 10% of my strength.

  7. Hello there! I’m a beginner who stopped lifting for 6 months (Study purposes),with a short term goal of losing fat and can’t wait to get back to the gym. I am glad I found out about your articles as they seem completely unbiased and provide quality information! Therefore I would like to thank you for what you do! I keep track of many of your articles and plan to use them when the time is right for me.
    As for a small question: As i said after checking myself i find out that all of the things you recommend are indeed true.Where do you get such quality information from? (Like, what kind of research do you do when you decide to cover a topic?)

    • Glad to hear it!

      As for your question, there are many answers. I’ve read a seemingly infinite amount of studies, books, and articles (and continue to do so on a daily basis), I’ve had discussions with lots of very smart people, and I have 15+ years of real-world experience.

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