Does fat turn into muscle? No, it doesn’t. Some may be sad to learn that fat isn’t just a jiggly pile of muscle, waiting to be transformed into a firmer version of itself. It’s like trying to turn vodka Jell-O shots into Swarovski crystals.
A myth, busted: Fat-to-muscle transformation
You can’t transform fat into muscle, no matter how hard you try. You also can’t change muscle into fat. Fat and muscle are different types of tissue, and one can’t be converted into the other.
Triglycerides make up fat. Each of these little fatty molecules is shaped like a capital E, with three chains of fatty acids made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
Chains of amino acids containing nitrogen are the building blocks of muscle. Since fat has no nitrogen, it can’t transform into muscle.
All is not lost, though. You can lose fat and gain muscle in two separate processes. Phew!
Although you’ll hear this popular fitness myth repeated everywhere, from gyms to magazines, there’s just no truth to it. But you can burn fat and then build muscle by moving more and making better-informed food choices.
Let’s look at some healthy ways to lose fat and gain muscle.
Are there workouts that turn fat into muscle? Well, if your friend Alex walks out of the room and then Jo comes into the room, has Alex magically transformed into Jo? Nope. It’s impossible, because they’re two different people. No swapsies.
If that’s the case, then how can you actually lose fat and gain muscle? Simple, my friend: It’s a combo of healthy eating and exercise. Ugh, really? Again? Yes, again. What else do you want us to say?
You have to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat. That means using more energy than you take in. You can eat fewer calories, increase your physical activity, or do both. Most experts agree that changing up your exercise routine while watching what you eat is the best way to sustain fat loss — it’s the most balanced approach.
There’s a never-ending list of dietary approaches that promise fat loss. They all boil down to the fact that if you eat fewer calories than you use, you’ll lose weight.
You don’t need gimmicks. Aim for a balanced diet with fewer processed foods and less sugar, and choose whole foods, sh*t tons of veggies, healthy fats, and lean protein sources.
On to the exercise part of this fat loss, muscle gain master plan.
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Suppose two people of the same weight are lounging on the sofa. If one has a higher muscle-to-fat ratio, they’ll burn more calories while just sitting there doing nothing. Building muscle helps you burn more calories and lose fat. Yep, even while you sleep.
To burn fat and build muscle, it’s best to combine moderate-intensity cardio exercise like walking or cycling with strength training like lifting weights or resistance band exercises.
Literally forever. It’s not a thing, and no matter how hard you try, it won’t happen. But if you want to know how long it takes to burn fat and build muscle… well, it depends.
Once you start making changes to your lifestyle, you can expect to see a difference in your body composition within a couple of months. The timing is different for everyone. It depends on:
- your starting ratio of muscle to body fat
- how much exercise you’re doing and which workouts you follow
- the foods you eat
- your metabolism
The important thing is to stick with it, even if you don’t see the desired changes right away. Order yourself a huge, sizzling slab of patience.
Using up calories as you sweat is a surefire strategy to burn fat. Here are five exercises to add to your workouts that can help burn fat.
This move is also called the running plank. Your arms, shoulders, quads, and core might be feeling the burn after this exercise that uses the floor like a mountain — sort of.
- Start with hands and knees on the floor, so you’re on all fours.
- Bring right foot toward your chest and place it near your right hand while extending left leg behind you.
- Switch your legs in one continuous motion, keeping arms in the same position.
- Speed up the motion, so you’re running your knees in and out above the floor.
Pro tip: Engage your core and keep your back straight as your knees move forward toward your hands.
Boat Pose (Navasana)
Boat Pose is a yoga position that strengthens your core while stretching your hamstrings and spine. It’s deceptively simple and doesn’t require much movement to be an effective fat burner. You don’t even have to be a boat — it’s awesome.
- Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest hands on the sides of your thighs.
- Lift feet off the floor, keeping knees bent at first. Bring your shins parallel to the floor. This position is called Half Boat Pose.
- Slowly lean back, keeping your back straight. You’ll find that your torso naturally falls back into this position as you raise your legs.
- Straighten your legs so they’re at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Your legs and body will form a V shape.
- Extend arms in front of you, parallel to the floor.
- Focus on lifting your chest, which supports your balance.
- Try to maintain the position for 5 breaths.
- Release your legs as you exhale.
If you’re looking for something that doesn’t involve the floor (erm, whose turn is it to vacuum?), try this simple move that’s easy to start but tricky to maintain.
You’re going to engage your core and give your legs a workout while feeling that cardio goodness.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Lift left knee toward your chest.
- Switch, lifting right knee toward your chest, to waist height if you can.
- Continue the smooth movement, alternating legs at a running pace.
Pro tip: Wait a while after eating to try these. Because your legs compress your tummy, you might end up feeling sick.
It’s “burpees,” not “beer, please.” One is great at burning fat. The other, not so much.
Burpees work all the major muscle groups, and most people find them challenging, to say the least. Think push-up meets enthusiastic salmon trying to reach its spawning ground. It’s a killer exercise that builds strength, endurance, and cardio fitness while tackling those jiggly bits.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms down by your sides.
- Lower yourself into a squat position with knees bent and back straight, then place your hands on the floor.
- Put your weight onto your hands and kick or step legs back into a plank position, with your weight on your hands and toes.
- Keep your back straight and do one push-up.
- Jump or step your legs forward into their starting squat position.
- Jump up into the air and reach arms over your head.
- Return to the standing position.
Pro tip: As you do a push-up, avoid letting your back sag or sticking your butt up into the air like you just don’t care.
Crunches in all forms are classic belly-fat burners. The bicycle crunch is an upgraded version of the basic crunch that works your abs and obliques. (In the GIF above, a resistance band makes a cameo — but you don’t need one.)
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Place hands behind your head, elbows pointing outward.
- Engage your abs, then lift knees to 90 degrees while raising your upper body into the starting position.
- Exhale and rotate your body so right elbow and left knee move toward each other. At the same time, straighten right leg.
- Alternate legs and elbows in a cycling motion while bracing your abs.
Pro tip: Keep your lower back on the floor and try to relax your shoulders away from your ears to prevent stresses and strains.
When fat loss and muscle gain are the order of the day, try to engage all the major muscle groups, not just your “beach muscles.” Here are five exercises to help build muscle.
It’s a classic. Doing a push-up with the correct form strengthens your arm muscles plus your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles.
- Start with your chest and stomach flat on the floor and legs straight out behind you.
- Place palms at chest level with your arms bent out from your body at a 45-degree angle.
- Exhale and push up from your hands and heels, bringing your body off the floor.
- Engage your core and pause briefly in the plank position.
- Inhale and lower yourself down to your starting position.
Pro tip: Brace your core to avoid sagging in your middle, which can cause back pain.
The humble squat uses pretty much every muscle in your core and lower body.
- Stand up straight with feet hip-width apart.
- Engage your core.
- Lower yourself down, like you’re sitting in an invisible chair.
- Straighten your legs to lift yourself back up.
Pro tip: You need to drop down far enough to benefit fully from squats — squatting to just below knee height will give you a proper crunch.
Lunges can strengthen and sculpt your thighs and butt and stretch your hamstrings.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Engage your core and take a big step forward with right leg. Shift your weight forward so your right shin is vertical.
- Press into right heel to return your body to the starting position.
- Repeat with left leg forward.
Pro tip: Don’t let your front knee go farther forward than your toes.
Pull-ups are great for building upper-body strength. If you’re going to enter competitions, though, be careful, as the bar’s pretty high.
- Grab the pull-up bar with your hands facing away from you, slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Pull yourself up toward the bar until it’s at chest level and your chin is above the bar.
- Pause briefly, then slowly lower yourself back down.
Bent-leg triceps dip
Grab a chair, and let’s get swole! You can also use a box, bench, or staircase to strengthen your triceps and pecs with this exercise.
- Stand in front of the chair.
- Crouch down and move your hands behind you. Grip the front edge of the chair, with your fingers facing toward you.
- Hover with your butt in front of the seat, not on it.
- Keep feet flat and knees bent, so thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Lower your body toward the floor until arms form 90-degree angles.
- Engage your triceps to press yourself back up.
To build muscle and shift fat, you need protein. Adding protein either as a supplement or in the form of protein-rich foods means protecting your muscles as you lose weight. It also keeps you fuller longer and helps you burn fat.
Research from 2012 suggests that upping your protein intake could mean less belly fat. If that’s your aim, try including more of these foods:
- Lean meats. Opt for lean beef cuts, skinless chicken and turkey, and pork loin.
- Fish. Cod, tuna, salmon, and shrimp pack a protein punch.
- Eggs. Crack ’em and snack ’em.
- Low fat dairy products. Milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and low fat cheese are great options.
- Legumes. Beans, lentils, soy, and split peas will help boost your protein without animal products.
- Nuts and seeds. Try walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds.
You can also try adding a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your daily routine. A small 2018 study suggested that ACV might help decrease weight and belly fat when combined with a reduced-calorie diet. It may also help reduce your appetite.
The idea of drinking vinegar might seem gross, but you could always add it to your cooking or use it as a salad dressing instead. And if you do want to drink it, be sure to dilute it in water — at least 8 ounces of water per tablespoon of vinegar.
If you’re wondering how long it takes to turn fat into muscle, the answer is that it doesn’t happen. Period. It’s a myth.
But you can lose weight and burn fat while building muscle through exercise.
Incorporate a range of cardio and strength exercises into your routine and eat a healthy, balanced diet that focuses on vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources.
It’s not going to be an overnight change, but you can lose fat and gain muscle with a bit of effort and plenty of motivation.