Can You Really Turn Fat into Muscle?

The short answer is no. Muscle and fat are like oil and water; they don’t mix. The reality is that you need to burn off fat and grow the muscle tissue you already have. So, let’s talk about what you can do to lose that fat and build the muscle you want.

Losing fat requires cutting calories. Building muscle mass requires extra calories. Instead of trying to attack both goals at once, you need to work one at a time to be successful. Adding extra calories, or “bulking,” is a good place to start. You might add some fat at the beginning, but you’ll be able to see more of a difference when you’re ready to lose the fat. Decreasing your calories to lose fat is called “cutting.”

Should I bulk or cut first?

There are a couple of different ways to think about this, but the following guidelines tend to be accepted by the workout community.

“Cutting” or Fat Loss

CUT first if you are:

  • Overweight
  • Hold a large amount of body fat (men with more than 15% body fat or women with more than 25% body fat).

Cutting typically begins at a 20% calorie deficit. There are many calculators on the internet to help you determine exactly how much of a deficit your body can handle safely, depending on your gender, height, weight, and other factors.

If you are obese or largely overweight, cutting at the typical calorie deficit may be too much of a steep step for you. Consider working on your overall weight first by updating your diet to include more lean, clean foods like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. Your activity should start slowly, working with cardio and low intensity strength training.

Another great tip is to make sure you’re still eating enough protein. Protein makes sure you can retain your muscle mass. Cutting doesn’t mean you stop lifting, either. Hitting those weights will make sure that you don’t lose the muscle while you lose the fat.

Adding muscle mass before cutting increases your metabolism. This means that the added muscle is burning more calories throughout your day, leading to a slightly higher number of calories you can eat. Whatever you eat is based on the number of calories you burn in a day. The goal is to burn more calories than you eat.

“Bulking” or Muscle Gain

BULK first if you are:

  • Underweight
  • Lean but undermuscled (men with 10% or less body fat or women with 20% or less body fat)

Typically, you want to bulk by eating about 500 calories more than your basal metabolic weight. This might change depending on factors like gender, height, weight, and metabolism. The more you train, the more calories you’ll need to bulk.

If you’re bulking, eat a high protein and high carb diet. Protein will help you gain muscle mass, and carbohydrates can boost glycogen levels that can improve workout performance and retain insulin levels, which lower muscle breakdown. Generally speaking, you want 1 pound of protein per pound of body weight and 30-50% of your diet to be carbs. Make sure that your bulking period is still based on a clean diet centered around lean meat and nutritious foods.

Take a few months to work through the entire process, spending a few weeks bulking and then a few weeks cutting. Working hard at it, you should be able to lose 10-15 pounds of fat and 5-10 pounds of muscle. Everybody is different, but we’re all hardwired the same way to lose fat and gain muscle based on calorie deficiencies and excesses.

The reality is that you can’t turn fat into muscle because they’re completely different pieces in your body, but you can lose fat and gain muscle with the right split plan.

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