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Is Fat Good? Why Fat Can Not be Converted into Muscle?

Director Cardiology, Fortis Escorts Hospital
Jan 27, 2019 4:17 AM 3 min read

Our body comprises different organs and tissues...each having their unique role in its normal functioning. Apart from brain, heart, lungs and abdominal organs, readers may be familiar with two types of tissues - lean tissue (i.e. skeletal muscles and bones) and body fat. Perhaps I don't need to emphasise that lean tissue is good, and fats not so much. However, body fat is not all bad – some fat is needed for insulation against cold, while females need more fat for normal hormonal function aside from needs of pregnancy and lactation.


The amount of body fat desirable depends on age and gender - about 12-20% for healthy adult males and 16-25% for healthy adult females, rising with age.


However, with nearly one third of the population being overweight or obese, there is a large chunk of population trying to lose fat and build muscle to be fit.


That begs the question...


can fat be converted into muscle? 


Well, sorry to break the bubble but:


The conversion of fat into muscle is physiologically not possible.


In general, the body finds it easier to progress in one direction at a time - both during anabolism or catabolism. That means when you eat less but don't exercise, you will lose both muscle and fat. Similarly, if you exercise intensely and eat more with intention of "bulking up", you would gain both muscle and fat. 


As discussed earlier, with heavy exercise, lean tissue constitutes about two-third of the gained weight, with one-third being fat. The latter may be minimised, of course, using professional help with diet and drugs/supplements - neither available nor desirable for most normal adults. Moreover, unregulated consumption of supplements do enhance risk of liver and kidney damage


But this is not writ in stone. It’s indeed possible for obese individuals to eat sensibly, cut down on high-calorie refined foods and exercise regularly to lose fat and gain some functional muscle.


Exercising to Gain Muscle


At this point, an important concept needs to be understood. Whether one is overweight, underweight or fit, the body is in a state of equilibrium. We provide a stimulus to the metabolism, using dietary modifications and exercise, which is followed by change until we reach a new equilibrium...commonly known as a plateau. Another stimulus is now needed to trigger further change in the desired direction. Either in the form of diet evaluation, or progression of exercise? Perhaps you need to increase your number of reps? Or lift a heavier weight? Or even slow down? Don't hurt yourself - but change should be your only constant which achieving your planned objectives.


There is a reason for the popular gym saying: everything works, for about 3 weeks; after that, you need to change. Hence, if one continues to eat and exercise the same way, day after day, one stops losing fat and building muscle after a few weeks: a change in the routine is again required.


Our cravings for certain foods, extremes of weather, social events and work pressures distract us from our goals, and need to be figured in and accounted for. Be patient, be steady, and don't lose focus.    


This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.