You Cannot Turn Fat into Muscle

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It has been about 3.5 years since I have finished my undergrad work. We can knock another 1.5 while I was taking coursework that separated me from the general fitness world.

Lets call it 5 years since I have really had to work with a lot of the old myths and sacredly held beliefs in this industry. Lately, some of these ideas have started to come up again and the questions surface.

I do not remember the last time I have had to listen to people talk about chicken breast, calf pumps, or doing 15 different shoulder exercises in a workout. Although, it would definitely make for a good laugh one of these days.

Yesterday, I head one of our athletes make a comment about muscle turning into fat when someone no longer trains.

This used to be something that I firmly believed early on in my college career. Note: I don’t know much now, it is scary to think how much I thought I had figured out back then.  The notion was also that if someone had excess body fat it would be good for their training. If they have the fat stored, then it will turn into muscle and they will be stronger than someone who does not have it.

Sounds like a good theory right?

Back when I was spending time with in the college fitness center and discussing with other unqualified personalities, no one ever thought this notion to be wrong. Everyone kind of just accepts it as true.

To start off, fat tissue and muscle tissue are two separate types of tissue.


Muscles are the working pieces of the body. They are responsible for moving the bones and working with the nervous system to produce movement. There are hundreds of muscles in the body and each one has a specific role. All people, regardless of their body type, have the same make up of muscles that do the same tasks. The only exception would be some kind of disease or injury.

Fat or adipose tissue, serves a completely different role. Body fat is important for insulation, protection, and nutrient absorption. Everyone has body fat but it is stored in the muscles or around organs. Besides the muscles, fat is commonly stored below the skin and around the liver. A human without body fat cannot survive normally.

They are two completely different types of tissue. If we could change one into the other then they would have the same function in the body.

Excess body fat is where we have problems. It is a health risk and a lot of people are not happy with the aesthetics of it. Gaining body fat is easy while losing it is difficult.

The best way to decrease body fat is the same as increasing lean muscle. We must eat well and exercise properly. Without one or the other, something has to suffer. You can lose a lot of body fat just by eating a lot better but not benefit from increased lean muscle. You can also gain a lot of muscle mass by resistance training, but that does not always yield a drop in body fat.

The goal of changing body composition is to decrease body fat while increasing muscle mass. You cannot do both without both exercise and nutrition.

If someone is walking around with a lot of excess body fat the goal is not to transform fat into muscle since that it is not possible. The goal becomes decrease body fat while increasing muscle mass.

On the other hand, if you have a extensive resistance training background then you probably have a good amount of muscle mass. Ceasing training completely will result in decrease muscle mass. Combine that with a bad diet and you have increased body fat as well. The muscle does not turn into fat, you are losing muscle and gaining fat at the same time.

Do not let the commercial gym warriors sugarcoat it. Muscle and fat function separately inside of the body. They are related when it comes to body composition. High fat, low muscle is not a desirable look for most people. High muscle and low body fat is what most are striving more. It is simple to obtain that through good diet and training, but nothing is transforming here.