Medical Articles

Muscle Turns To Fat? Bodybuilding Myths Dispelled

I have heard it many times before, "I don't want to gain too much muscle, because if I stop training, it will all turn in to fat". Could that really be? All that hard work in the gym and should you take a little break, your muscle will turn in to fat? Scary!!

THE FIT FACTORY is here to shed light on a few bodybuilding myths and provide you with the truth. We'll delve in to a few topics that have been misunderstood for years... While these may not be revelations, knowing the difference between myth and truth can actually improve your approach to training and nutrition, equaling a better YOU.

First off, muscle tissue and fat tissue are completely separate materials and their cells cannot be interchanged or transformed from one to the other; muscle tissue cannot turn in to fat tissue and fat tissue cannot turn into muscle tissue. While a person is able to add fat cells with a seemingly limitless supply, we cannot duplicate or add additional muscle cells to the body. When you were young, in your early physical development, your muscle cells would increase in number as you grew. This is a process called hyperplasia. This process only occurs in childhood, not in adulthood; your number of muscle cells have been established. They are not increasing in number as you train with weights and conversely they are not decreasing in number and changing in to fat cells when you stop training.

While muscle cells will not grow in number, they can increase in size. Muscle cells can grow to enormous proportions; this is a process called hypertrophy. While there does not seem to be limits to how much fat a person can gain (this may be due to the fact that fat accumulates with an increased number of cells), there are limiting or controlling factors to how much a muscle cell can gain. The cell nuclei is responsible for controlling many cell functions, one, for instance, is protein synthesis. A single muscle cell cannot grow beyond what the nuclei can regulate. As part of the muscle building process, additional nuclei are added to the muscle cell. You can compare this to a supervisor of a group who is capable of managing up to 10 people on his team and no more than that. When the group needs more people, simply add another supervisor and now the two supervisors together can support a team of up to 20 people. The more nuclei in the cell, means a larger cell and thus, a larger muscle.

Without resistance training, another process occurs, muscle atrophy. The muscle cells, however, do not change into something else. This is not like some sci-fi channel metamorphosis where you develop in to something else. The muscle cells simply decrease in size. However, any nuclei added to a muscle cell during the muscle repair and rebuilding process (hypertrophy), remains in the cell. Those new nuclei are permanent. The muscle will NOT inevitably turn to fat once training has ceased, because the new nuclei that was gained in the muscle cell through resistance training will allow you to retain muscle during a break. Thus, having more muscle without training, rather than someone who has never trained. If your break from training is short, like a couple weeks, or even a month, you will likely see NO muscle loss at all, unless of course you cease to take in calories. If you do take an extended break, once you come back to bodybuilding, you still have your extra little nuclei ready to support a larger muscle cell. Your muscle growth will be much quicker compared to someone who has never trained. You will find yourself back to where you left off in no time...

I have experienced this myself- with a top weight of 223 lbs in 2003, I took some years off from weight training, eating less, and playing extreme amounts of basketball- I dropped to 185 lbs. When I decided to jump back in to bodybuilding, I dropped the basketball, put my nutrition on par, and hit the weights. In three months time, I was back up to 220 lbs and yes, with abs all this time. This is what many refer to as muscle memory. The cell nuclei is positioned to support those gains.

This is actually quite simple, with more muscle size, you increase your caloric needs. With more intense work in the gym, you also increase your appetite. As you train, these calories are used as energy and also used for your recovery needs. This myth of muscle turning in to fat stems from those who stop training, and then don't adjust their caloric intake. It stands to reason that if you increase your physical activity, thus increasing calories burned, while your caloric intake remains the same- you lose fat. If you DECREASE your physical activity, thus burning less calories while caloric intake remains the same, YOU WILL INCREASE FAT- common sense, right?... A bodybuilder with tons of lean muscle who stops all weight training, but eats as if they are still training, will see muscle atrophy, while gaining fat. To the common onlooker, this may look like the muscle has converted to fat. As we now know, this is not the case, and entirely impossible.

Now you know the science behind muscle growth and what happens when you stop lifting weights, SO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY... Do not be afraid to take time off from weight training when you feel you need it, like giving your joints a chance to recuperate or taking a vacation with your family. Most importantly, recognize that you don't need to spend 5+ days a week lifting weights to see muscle gains or to keep from losing muscle. Remember, too much weight training WILL, without a doubt cause muscle loss through over training.


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