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Does Muscle Turn to Fat

By Dr. Kristie

Do muscles turn to fat when you stop exercising? Some people think so – especially when they see the finely developed muscles of a weight lifter turn to mush once they let their health club membership expire.

There’s little doubt that physiques undergo a noticeable decline when a person goes from gym rat to couch potato. But, do muscles really turn to fat?

Do Muscles Turn to Fat?

In reality, it’s impossible for muscle to turn to fat, no matter how often you lay on the couch. Although you’ll become noticeably “flabbier” it’s not because muscle has changed to adipose tissue but because you’ve put on more fat to cover the underlying muscle. It’s physiologically impossible for muscle to turn to fat since they’re two distinct types of tissue.

When a person who exercises regularly stops exercising but continues to eat the same amount of food, there’s a good chance they’ll put on weight and it won’t be muscle tissue but loose, jiggly fat.

The total number of fat cells doesn’t increase significantly with weight gain, but the existing fat cells become larger in size. The effect is the same – an increase in body fat.

At the same time, once resistance training is stopped, the muscle cells start to shrink and the muscles that took so much sweat equity to build start to atrophy. The overall effect is an increase in the ratio of fat to muscle – and a flabby appearance.

Calorie Requirements Drops When You Stop Exercising

This is the biggest reason that the ratio of fat to muscle changes when you stop exercising. Not only do most people continue to eat the same way they did when they still exercised, but the loss of muscle tissue decreases their metabolism making weight gain even more likely. Needless to say, dietary adjustments must be made if you stop exercising.

The Bottom Line

It’s a myth that muscles turn to fat once your gym membership expires, but keeping the fat off can be a challenge when you’re no longer burning lots of calories and building muscle. Better to keep exercising. If you can’t, at least cut back on how much you’re eating.

About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with a concentration in Family Practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.


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