Working out and getting fit is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. You burn calories, improve cardiovascular ability and release endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals that treat your brain to happy thoughts as you walk out of the gym. Sculpting your body is hard work, and developing washboard abs takes time. Fat fills in the seams between muscle tissues and, unfortunately, converting those fat cells to muscle isn’t possible.
Calories In, Calories Out
Your body stores far in case of emergency. Early in human evolutionary history, this stored energy was vital to survival during the lean winter months and other times of food shortage. Circumstances are different in modern society but our bodies still respond instinctually to the build-in programming we have to survive. However, with far less activity happening for survival, the best way to burn off fat is to use up more calories than you consume.
Fat cells are vessels of stored energy. A bloated fat cell contains a large glob of fat in the middle, and it exists side by side with your body’s skeletal muscle, which is a completely different cell structure. One type of cell cannot change into another type of cell. The two remain distinct, no matter how much you work out.
When you operate at a calorie deficit, your body reduces the amount of stored fat, which reveals more of the muscle beneath. The incorrect perception is that the exercise has turned what was once a flabby arm into a muscle with visible definition. In fact, two things are happening: The fat cell is shrinking and the muscle is expanding. When you work out, the muscle fibers become injured with microscopic tears, and these tears must be repaired. The body produces more muscle cells to repair the injury, adding to your overall muscle mass.
In a roundabout way, you could think of your training regimen as turning fat into muscle because muscle tissue burns more calories while you’re at rest than fat tissue does. If you start lifting weights regularly, you will increase the amount of lean muscle mass that exists beneath the layer of fat your body keeps for protection and energy storage. The new lean muscle mass needs more of your body’s available calories to sustain its cellular operations. When you are operating at a calorie deficit, your body draws the additional calories it needs to sustain the muscle tissue directly from the fat cells.
A study by Anna Marie Rodriguez and her colleagues, published in the May 2005 “Journal of Experimental Medicine,” found that stem cells from the fat tissue of mice could differentiate into muscle cells in vitro. Rodriguez injected the cells back into the mice where they continued to divide and produce more muscle cells in vivo. The promising discovery means that fat cells can actually turn into muscle, but through scientific means, not by putting the mice on a treadmill.