By Amelia Ricci
DOES MUSCLE TURN INTO FAT IF YOU DON’T USE IT?
Firstly, it’s important to note that fat and muscle cells are completely different tissue. For the purposes of weight training we are interested in skeletal muscle. This is structured as a cylindrically shaped cell (long and stringy in appearance) and ranges from 30cm long (for example, in your thigh muscle or sartorius) to 1mm in length (attached to the tiny bones in the ear). Fat cells (also referred to adipose tissue) are quite different: they are designed to store fats and make fats. But fat cells do more than just store energy, they also insulate the body, and make hormones including leptin, which is involved in the regulation of appetite, and energy balance. It is interesting to note that deposits of fat around the belly are linked to insulin resistance, while fat on the limbs is more "harmless". In women, fat deposits in the hips, breasts and buttocks are somewhat controlled by female sex hormones. One of the amazing things about muscle tissue is that it has the ability through regular, progressive exercise to increase in size (known as muscle hypertrophy). Donnelly and colleagues have reported that strength training studies (lasting from 8 to 52 weeks) have shown increases of 1 to 2kg of muscle mass. In addition to increasing in size, the muscle can also get stronger and, with additional training, improvements can be seen in endurance capacity, power output and force production.
If you’re not active your body composition can shift, where the muscles that you have worked hard to build get smaller. You still have the same number of muscle cells - but each muscle cell gets thinner. If you happen to keep eating the same amount of food, the fat cells (which were always there) will now expand. Under no circumstances does one type of cell (muscle) turn into a completely different type of cell (fat) with different internal machinery, functions and shape. Applying this to our training goals (to increase muscle and lose body fat) it’s muscle mass is not just one magic thing, rather it is the combination of several aspects including nutrition, training and mindset. Overall caloric expenditure is the way to uncover your muscle, so you can see its size and shape. Remember that the basics of fat loss are relatively simple: to lose body fat you need to burn more calories than you consume.
Finally, it’s important to note that scale weight alone is not a good indicator of body composition. It’s just one measure and can’t tell you if you have lost fat, muscle or water. Other methods include the DEXA scan, Body Scan and callipers, however the least expensive is to take your own progress photos and combine these with waist measurements and use your scale weight as a measure over time and look at the trend or increase or decrease.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET VISIBLE ABS? I TRAIN MY ABS AND EAT WELL, BUT AM NOT SEEING PROGRESS.
It’s important to look at all aspects of your body including hormone function. In particular, oestrogen levels can be to blame for a soft midsection. You can get your hormone levels tested by a doctor and if hormone balance is considered to be normal, then you can examine other factors.
In the answer above we learned that body fat is dictated by overall caloric intake. Therefore, the most important factor in body composition, and being able to see abdominal muscle definition, is to establish healthy eating habits. Everyone is different, and this is where it’s important to observe how different foods make you feel and then exclude any foods that may irritate your stomach. You may do this by your own observation or see a dietician for hydrogen breath testing and other methods of food intolerance testing. Once you have found a nutrition regime that suits you, this is where you can establish consistency.
Abs are made in the kitchen and it depends on what your starting body fat level is. It can take 6-12 weeks to see visible abs and this relates to consistency. Nutrition is closely related to our mindset and for some people, moods can affect what and how we eat! If you are serious about a fat loss goal, firstly be honest with yourself about any extra treats (like alcohol or sweets) and look to reduce your calories slightly, plus ensure you are eating enough fibre, for example, green vegetables and drinking enough water. Try this consistently for 2 weeks and reassess. Remember that abs are seen by reducing body fat on top of the midsection, you can "smash" them with training, but nutrition needs to be on point.
I HAVE TRIED SO MANY DIFFERENT DIET AND TRAINING PROGRAMS, BUT NOTHING WORKS. WILL I EVER ACHIEVE MY FITNESS GOALS?
These days there are so many great resources for health and fitness enthusiasts. You may have fallen into the trap of focusing on information over implementation, which is where you might be so caught up in changing strategies instead of taking action. Along with the benefits that come with accessibility to the internet, there can be downsides, unless we start consistently applying the knowledge, we’re never going to get anywhere.
You don’t need anyone else to give you the answers. Just start - start taking action today, right now and just stay the course. It seems like your problem might be caused by the fact that you keep changing things and don’t give yourself a chance for consistency. It will take time for your body to adjust to a new nutrition plan so be patient and don’t keep changing things after you don’t see results in a week. If you’ve been struggling with yo-yo dieting over the years, most likely your metabolism is going to take a little while to sort itself out. I’ve gone periods, especially when I had to lose the baby weight, where weight didn’t move for weeks, but I kept going and eventually things started to happen!
Consistency and action are much more powerful than any specific diet or fitness program. Just keep your head down, don’t worry about what others are doing and keep going.