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Friday, November 4, 2011

You Know...Muscle Turns to Fat if you Stop Exercising...

You know you can’t ever stop working out or all that muscle will turn to fat…” Have you ever heard one of your jealous friends say this?  Ever wondered whether or not it was true?  I hope you didn’t.  I hope you laughed at that ridiculous notion the minute you heard it and told your friend, “that’s ludicrous; muscle is muscle and fat is fat.  That’s akin to watching your liver “turn" into your gallbladder." 

One cannot wave a magic wand and have one type of tissue magically turn into another.”  Would that it could; I’d wave that magic wand over every pound
of body fat (in excess of 10%) and poof! it would be muscle!  Then before my very eyes would appear six pack abs, deep dimples in my butt, separation in my… (there’s a long wishlist that I’ll spare you-we are always a work in progress, aren’t we?)

The truth is muscle and fat are completely different types of tissues that have completely different functions.  It is impossible for one type of tissue to turn into another.

When a person exercises, skeletal muscles get larger through a process called hypertrophy which is defined as: an increase in the size of a muscle cell(s).  While increasing the size of a muscle is a common benefit (yes, a benefit) of exercise, one does not gain a greater number of muscle cells unless hyperplasia occurs.  Hyperplasia refers to an increase in the number of cells or fibers (a single muscle cell is generally referred to as a fiber.)  Increasing the number of muscle fibers is far less common. In fact, hyperplasia is unlikely to occur at all.  As a rule, the number and type of muscle fibers are genetically predetermined per individual. Increases in muscle mass are due then, to increases in muscle (fiber) size, not number.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying.  The prospect of muscle hyperplasia is very exciting and has been the topic of a good deal of research.  But the research has focused mostly on animals (since conducting human studies is still, last time I checked, considered unethical.) Science has yet to prove that increasing the number of human muscle fibers though exercise, stretching, diet, and a number of other methods is possible.  Several theories are currently being studied in the hopes of demonstrating it’s plausibility, but nothing, so far, has proven conclusive. Still, some research points to the possibility of one day proving hyperplasia is indeed possible under certain circumstances (a hot topic for another day.)

Getting back to the magic wand…

What actually happens when a person quits exercising is the muscle cells simply shrink. Muscle takes quite a bit of energy to maintain (approximately 13 Calories per kilogram per day or around 6 Calories per pound per day.) That is why people who exercise regularly become accustomed to eating quite a bit more food than people who maintain a relatively healthy body weight without exercising (assuming they can manage that without regular exercise.) Once one stops working out, they instantly lose the need for the calories used during their workouts, which is often quite significant. The newfound slothful lifestyle can lead to weight or more accurately, fat gain.

Ultimately, people who exercise regularly, then, suddenly stop, tend to gain fat quickly because they don’t adjust their food intake to compensate for their decreased caloric needs, not because muscle cells are turning into fat cells!

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