In short: no, your body does not turn fat into muscle. However, your body does not turn muscle into fat either.
Why is this myth such a popular belief? Honestly, we aren’t sure! But, what we do know is that this is, in fact, just a myth and isn’t backed up by any science.
Fat and muscle are two different tissue types and so, can’t be converted into each other. Maybe if we can evolve further, this might be something to ask for in the survey but currently, it simply isn’t possible. So, pondering the question “how to turn fat into muscle” won’t get you very far (we know, we wish it would). What you can do to get somewhere though, is to gain muscle and lose fat as two separate goals.
Of course, to lose fat you need to lose weight and to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you eat. As you may well know, this isn’t as simple as it sounds since, if you don’t eat the right foods, your weight loss could come from a loss of muscle too. We know, you just can’t get the bodies these days!
How to Lose Fat Not Muscle
It’s quite a fine art this whole “losing fat but not muscle” malarky because if you just throw yourself into a calorie deficit, your body will naturally get rid of muscle too. But, this deficit is also necessary to lose fat since it won’t shift if you eat more than you burn. Quite the conundrum really!
Thankfully, there are ways that you can ensure you will be losing fat, not muscle, by creating your deficit in different ways (rather than just cutting calories willy-nilly). Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of losing fat but not muscle, shall we?
Fewer Reduced Calories
Since simply cutting calories incurs a lot of muscle loss, you’ll want to steer clear of those low-calorie diets (typically, these are fads anyway! Shh, don’t tell anyone we told you!).
Usually, women will want to decrease their calorie consumption by 300 to 400 and men should reduce by 400 to 600. But, to ensure you are taking away the right number, work out your maintenance calories and reduce by 25 per cent.
Now, this has probably made you ponder another question: “what are maintenance calories?”. Fair question. Don’t worry, we’re going to explain everything.
This is the number of calories you should be eating every day to maintain your current weight. It factors in your age, gender, activity level and other aspects that affect how much you should really be eating.
Of course, this won’t be completely accurate. The only way to calculate that would be to spend a day in a metabolic chamber but it’s unlikely that you have this option. Although… if you do then go for it! We’d be excited to hear about your experience, that’s for sure!
Anyway, find our your maintenance calories and then multiply it by 0.75 and there is your target.
You will find that you’ll lose weight slowly. Yes, slowly. Although this might not be your desired result, it is necessary for ensuring you lose only fat and not muscle.
Concentrate On Full-Body Strength Exercises
Strength training is more commonly seen in those who are primarily trying to build muscle mass. However, this won’t happen since you’re currently in a calorie deficit. That being said, it has been scientifically proven that focusing on full-body resistance training while eating to lose fat will actively help you along your journey.
How on earth does this happen? Well, this type of exercise uses type 2 muscle fibres. Basically, it works on preserving muscle mass. Plus, it will release testosterone which allows you to retain muscle instead of getting rid of it like fat.
When you next sit down to revise your workout plan (preferably right now but you do you!), you should slot in this type of training 3 days each week at least. It works better if you do it 5 or 6 times a week though and split upper and lower body.
Whatever exercises you decide to do (we’ll have a little look at some in a minute) you should make sure they are all heavily loaded (ie lots of weight) and do 6 to 8 reps of each movement.
The Exercises for Full-Body Strength Training
As you know, there are hundreds of movements you could do but deciding which ones are best takes a lot of trial and error. So, we figured we’d help you along (we know, we’re pretty nice) and give you a few to get you started.
Barbell Bench Press (6-8 reps, 3-4 sets)
This is your essential chest move and great for ripping off the fat and building up your muscle mass. Plus, since the bench is flat for this movement, it will isolate your mid-chest and work your triceps and shoulders too.
Make sure you perform the full range of motion. We see you and slacking will get you nowhere!
Barbell Back Squat (6-8 reps, 3-4 sets)
To give your upper a body a break after that hardcore iron-pumping, we’ll move on to the lower body.
Here, you’ll feel your quads and glutes working as you squat down and use a full range of motion. We know legs are tough, and you’ll probably walk like a cowboy for a few days but, trust us, it’s worth it.
Pull-Ups (6-8 reps, 3-4 sets)
Pull-ups are your main back workout. You’ll be using your lats but also other sets of muscles in and around your back to pull yourself up.
If bodyweight pull-ups are too easy for you (what a legend, you have our utmost respect) place a dumbbell between your interlocked ankles and try it this way.
Lying Dumbbell Hamstring Curls (6-8 reps, 3-4 sets)
And back to legs we go!
Hold a dumbbell between your feet for this one to feel the tension in your hamstrings. It’s quite tricky not to involve your back but you need to make sure you isolate those muscles and feel it in your legs.
Standing Overhead Press (6-8 reps, 3-4 sets)
You can’t develop your upper body without doing something about your shoulders. Luckily, that’s what this exercise is for.
Various studies have concluded that this movement is fantastic for your anterior deltoid (basically the uppermost part of your arm, just thought we’d through a bit of science in here for you).
Drag Curls (6-8 reps, 3-4 sets)
Here, we’re going to work the biceps so you can get those big ol’ arms you’ve always dreamed of!
Use a lower weight to start with so you get the right form going and then progress to the heavy stuff.
Face Pulls (6-8 reps, 3-4 sets)
This one will help your posture too (no more slouching at your desk!). Mainly, it works your rear delts and traps so you should concentrate on feeling the tension in these parts.
Once you get the hang of these and you feel like switching it up, do so. But this is a great place to start (even if we do say so ourselves).
It’s All About The Protein
You see those gym nuts harping on about protein? Well, they aren’t entirely wrong. Even in your fat loss without losing muscle journey, you need to be aware of your protein consumption.
In short, you shouldn’t cut your calories from the protein section of your diet since it’s needed for building (and maintaining) muscle. Not to mention that it will help you to feel fuller for longer so you can wave goodbye to overeating. A win-win situation!
Keep Account of Your Carbs
Do you know all those keyboard warriors that scream “LOSE WEIGHT BY CUTTING CARBS”? Well…just don’t. Carbohydrates are essential for sustaining your muscle mass and health. Therefore, following a low-carb diet is simply not necessary.
How much exactly should you be eating? Well, just double the grams of protein you’re consuming and there you go.
Make Sure You Recover
Active recovery after exercise will ensure you reap all the possible benefits of your training. But, the type of recovery that is almost always overlooked is sleep.
Unsurprisingly really, research has shown that even just four days of sleep deprivation will reduce your sensitivity to insulin and increase your fat storage. So, even if you’re doing everything else right, not getting enough sleep will greatly harm your results (it might even make you worse).
The Bottom Line
Yep, you now know the unfortunate truth behind turning fat into muscle (ie that it’s impossible). However, you also know that you can take steps to lose weight (fat) while maintaining your muscle mass and eventually growing it.
Just one more little tip before we go: remember that everyone is different. You may find that matey over there in the gym is shredding fat and seeing results in no time but you’re not. This is down to genetics so don’t fret! You can’t do anything about it. Plus, when you have to work for it, the results are always sweeter.