Building Muscle, Burning Fat, and Busting Myths

Posted by Dr. Michael White, Updated on March 29th, 2024
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Most people make healthy lifestyle changes for two reasons—to get stronger and lose weight. One of the more pernicious myths among Americans is that diet and exercise convert fat into muscle. While it's easy to imagine the thought process that leads to this conclusion, it couldn't be further from the truth. While similar lifestyle choices lead us to increase muscle mass and burn off fat, these changes occur due to separate mechanisms.

Fat and muscle cells have different purposes and are structured entirely differently. Fat cells are specifically designed to store energy, and muscle cells are composed of protein and burn energy when used.

Understanding Fat vs. Muscle

There are three categories of muscle. Skeletal Muscles are what most people imagine when they think of muscle. Skeletal muscles give us the ability to move voluntarily. They get stronger when we work out and allow us to lift more and use our bodies more gracefully. Smooth muscle is mostly located in the digestive tract to absorb nutrients and pass waste. Cardiac muscle is specially designed to meet the constant demands of the heart. Muscle is comprised of amino acid chains which form proteins and muscle tissue.

Body fat is built very differently. Rather than protein, the base molecule of body fat are triglycerides made from oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. While there are many categories of fat, most can be categorized as white fat or brown fat. White fat is used for energy storage. Brown fats are essential for metabolism and temperature regulation.

Losing Weight Without Losing Muscle

To achieve the best, lasting results, it's important to lose weight the right way. Crash diets will always be popular, but there is a reason why they don't work out for most people. Rapid caloric restriction causes the body to shift from burning fat to burning muscle. It's possible to convert muscle proteins into energy, but this reduces your metabolism and leads to fatigue, exhaustion, and irritability. And it makes it much more difficult to burn fat efficiently!

Extreme fasting simulates starvation, and the body reacts by preserving body fat stores as best it can. When you increase your caloric intake, your metabolism will still be messed up due to muscle atrophy, causing you to gain back weight quickly and maybe even end up heavier than before!

Most nutrition experts suggest that a healthy diet should involve reducing your caloric intake by 10-20% (approximately 500 calories). This encourages your body to break down stored body fat without triggering emergency muscle breakdown.

To further protect and build muscle, you should combine your caloric restriction with a reasonable workout routine combining weight training and cardio while reducing carbohydrates and increasing protein consumption. Two or three weight training sessions per week should be plenty to get your body on the right track.

A Healthy Lifestyle Promotes Balanced Hormones

Maintaining a healthy weight and staying active helps keep your hormones in balance. Anaerobic exercise helps stimulate Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone Production, improving your body composition, mood, sexual satisfaction, boosting energy, and more. A good workout routine also suppresses Cortisol production by relieving pent-up anxiety and releasing pleasure-inducing endorphins. Eating well and burning fat also limits the influence of Estrogen on male physiology. Body fat cells produce Estrogen and can disrupt natural sex hormone balance.

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