Does Fat Turn Into Muscle When You Work Out?

It’s the ultimate goal for most of us – having a muscular physique and low body fat.

We know that in order to achieve this we’ll have to exercise in some way, more specifically some form of resistance training.

However, does fat turn into muscle when you work out?

This is a commonly-asked question, and one that I will answer and attempt to explain in today’s article.

Does Fat Turn Into Muscle When You Work Out?

You’ll often hear about the relationship between fat and muscle. However, fat and muscle are two completely different types of tissue. Therefore, fat will not turn into muscle when you work out and vice versa, muscle will not turn into fat if you stop exercising.

The Difference Between Fat and Muscle

A Large Man Eating While Sat in a Boat Named 'S.S. Fat Guy'

So, we’re now aware that fat and muscle are different types of tissue.

They also both have different roles in the body.

Muscle can best be described as an active tissue.

Basically, muscle burns calories 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even while you’re asleep.

The more muscle tissue the body has, the more calories you burn throughout the day.

Fat, in contrast, literally does nothing.

Fat is simply stored excess energy.

In truth, fat has no particular role, other than to act as insulation to keep you warm and the extra padding may also protect you from bumps and scrapes.

That being said, we all need some body fat in order to remain healthy.

Even someone with a great set of abs, who looks to be in fantastic shape, will typically have a body fat percentage around the 10% mark.

It is also important to note that having a body fat percentage that is too low can cause various health issues.

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Can You Lose Fat and Build Muscle at the Same Time?

3 Lego Men Transforming From Fat to Fit

Now we’re talking.

This is really what the vast majority of us are looking to achieve.

We know that more lean muscle means that we’re burning more calories on a daily basis.

Plus, more lean muscle also gives us that sleek, sexy, and athletic look.

However, as we have learned, fat doesn’t do a great deal for us, and is typically stored as surplus energy.

So, in reality we all want to lose body fat while increasing muscle mass.

Whether you can achieve this at the same time will very much depend on your current fitness, strength, and muscularity levels.

The Advanced Trainee

As someone who exercises a lot and has a significant amount of lean muscle mass, losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time is extremely challenging.

This is often why you’ll see bodybuilders or even regular gym-goers have separate “bulking” and “cutting” phases.

Basically, the two processes work against each other.

In order to build muscle you will typically need to eat more calories than you burn.

And to lose fat you will need to burn more calories than you consume.

So, in effect, when you’re eating at a calorie-deficit you will lose fat, but your muscles are not receiving the required fuel to grow.

The Average Trainee

However, for the vast majority of us who typically view exercise as a hobby or a way to keep fit, it is indeed possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time

The body isn’t as attuned to high-level exercise as the advanced exerciser.

This will involve making a few changes to how you work out, as well as certain adjustments to your diet and nutrition.

For someone completely new to exercise, the benefits of fat loss and muscle growth will be at their greatest.

How To Lose Fat and Build Muscle – The Advanced Trainee

A Strong, Athletic Man Holding a Bottle of Water and With a Green Towel Around His Neck

As I’ve mentioned, this must be approached differently depending on how much you currently exercise.

I’m going to assume that you’re not a professional athlete or bodybuilder (although you would go about this in the same way).

So, I will base this on you being someone who has years of experience in the gym.

Two Distinct Phases

That being said, if this is the case, then you will have to approach your goal in two distinct phases.

Firstly, it will be better to increase your calorie intake and look to add as much muscle mass as possible through strength training initially.

Unfortunately, at this level of fitness there’s no way you can lose fat and build muscle at the same time.

In order to grow muscles you will require the additional calories.

Insulin also happens to play an extremely important role in muscle growth.

Whereas, insulin is viewed as the devil-incarnate in terms of fat loss.

This is why eating additional carbs (as well as protein) is very important when you’re looking to add muscle.

This also happens to be the reason why many modern-day diets look to restrict carbs in individuals looking to lose weight or body fat.

It’s important to remember that as you add more muscle to your frame, the more calories you will be burning while at rest.

So, it makes sense that you increase your calorie intake further as you continue to add muscle.

Sadly, there’s no two ways about it, as you increase your calorie intake in order to build muscle, you will probably add some body fat at the same time.

However, as long as you train heavy in your workouts and eat what can best be described as bodybuilding foods, you won’t add too much fat.

Therefore, stick to the big barbell exercises and focus on foods like, chicken, tuna, beef, oatmeal, eggs, rice and pasta.

You should also avoid processed foods and alcohol.

How to Lose Fat and Build Muscle – The Average Trainee

Three Men Running Across The Road at a Crossing

For your average Joe or Jane you can indeed lose fat and build muscle at the same time.

You’ll need to approach this with a two-pronged attack.

This will involve strength training and cardio.

If you simply perform strength training without cardio then you will be compromising your potential fat loss.

If you perform cardio exercise with no strength training then you are compromising your potential muscle growth.

However, overdoing the cardio can also have the opposite effect on fat loss too.

This is something that I have often talked about.

By performing long bouts of cardio all the time you will typically find that you start losing weight.

That being said, this “weight loss” can actually be muscle loss, as opposed to fat loss.

The body is typically put under a lot of stress from long bouts of steady-state, moderate intensity cardio, e.g. jogging.

This can lead to the release of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Cortisol will typically eat away at muscle tissue, while holding onto body fat.

The impact of this is that you will have less muscle tissue, thus slowing down your metabolic rate.

A slower metabolic rate means that your body is burning fewer calories throughout the day.

So, unfortunately you could actually end up having more body fat than when you first started.

For me, the perfect combination would be to perform some form of strength training, short and intense conditioning workouts, and simply walk on your days off.

Remember Diet & Nutrition

Finally, don’t forget about nutrition.

You need to ensure that you’re eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet, while avoiding processed foods.

Personally, I like to stick with the main muscle-building foods that I’ve mentioned above.

I’ll include plenty of vegetables.

Plus, on my rest days, I undertake a form of carb-cycling by simply eating half a portion of rice or pasta with my meals.

Basically, I need less energy on my “rest days”, so it makes sense to lower my main energy source (carbs) ever so slightly.

Full Day of Eating to Lose Fat and Gain Muscle

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see fat definitely doesn’t turn into muscle, or vice versa.

They are two completely different types of tissue, so this would be metabolically impossible.

However, when it comes to burning fat and building muscle, this is definitely possible.

As an advanced trainee you will need to approach this in two different phases, with muscle-building being your first port of call.

As someone who is more of an average trainee (or even a complete beginner) you have the advantage in that you will be able to lose fat and build muscle at the same time.

Your focus should be on performing both cardio and strength training in order to achieve this.

There are various ways to do this, but one of my favourite’s has to be what I learned from Bodyweight Burn.

This is a training protocol that incorporates 3 optimal workouts methods.

  • Cardioflow
  • Afterburners
  • Metabolic-Muscle Sessions

Furthermore, the workouts are bodyweight-based and therefore require absolutely no equipment.

Plus, each workout can be completed in just 21 minutes.

Discover more by checking out my Bodyweight Burn Review.

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10 thoughts on “Does Fat Turn Into Muscle When You Work Out?”

  1. Very interesting article Partha. I am by no means a bodybuilder or athlete but I can attest to the fact that the average person can lose some weight while building small amounts of muscle. I am an over 50 female who enjoys both cardio and weight training. Naturally, I don’t lift heavy weight but I do challenge myself at each workout. I have found I need the combination of both weights and cardio in order to effectively lose body fat. I am beginning a new workout schedule as you recommended to me previously and am excited to see what results I get in the next few weeks. Thanks again for all your info Partha.

    • Hi Deb,

      Always great to hear from you.

      To be honest, you sound as though you’ve got it sorted.

      Your workout routine sounds great to me, and I love the fact that you appreciate that a combination of both resistance work and cardio is the best way to burn body fat.

      I’ve mentioned on this site many times before that a little bit of both is definitely the way forward.

      I know many people seem to stick with pure cardio workouts, but it’s important to remember that the more lean muscle we have, the more calories and body fat we burn throughout the day.

      And there really isn’t any need to “lift heavy” unless packing on major strength or slabs of muscle is your goal.

      So, using light weights to provide resistance is perfect for most people.

      Oh Deb, that’s really pleasing to hear, I’m always about to help if I can.

      Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about your new workout schedule, so please do keep me informed.


  2. Hi Partha!

    Very nice and insightful article! Though I often go to the gym I did not realize how the muscle vs fat stuff works. I always asked myself why when starting the gym after a long time I quickly lose fat and gain muscle, but however when being regular for a long period of time I found it more difficult to gain muscular mass, now I have got the answer!.

    Many of us try to go the gym and eat specific foods without knowing how the process of gaining muscle and losing fat works. I think the precise information you provide on your website can help us do the optimum exercise and eat the appropriate foods to get the wanted results more quickly.

    Thanks again!


    • Hi Arnaud,

      Thanks for your kind words, it’s much appreciated.

      Yes, I think understanding how the body works in relation to exercise and its effects is a great way to keep making moves in the right direction.

      Something else that is very important is that the body also adapts to any form of activity fairly quickly.

      The human body really is an amazing thing, and the only way to make improvements and smash through plateaus is to make continual changes.

      Whether this means adding more weight to the bar, performing a few more reps or an extra set, or even changing up your workout completely, progression is the name of the game.

      As I’ve mentioned here, the more seasoned trainee will have far more years behind them with exercise and therefore the body typically knows what to expect.

      So, in order for someone with a lot of lifting experience to lose fat and gain muscle this must be approached in the two separate phases.

      And irrespective of your training experience, diet and nutrition obviously plays a huge role in both building muscle and burning fat.

      Thanks once again for stopping by.


  3. Really enjoyed the post man, very informative. Who knew that even if you had abs you would still have 10% body fat. I always try to mix up my work outs with cardio and weight training, good to hear I am on the right track. Cheers

    • Hey Robb,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      In fact, the body fat percentage differs for both men and women when it comes to having your abs showing.

      For men the range is typically 10-15% and for women 15-22%.

      So, in effect you can have a higher percentage of body fat and still have a great set of abs.

      Glad to hear that the article was helpful to you, and loving the fact that you perform both cardio and resistance exercise.

      For the vast majority of us this is best way to stay fit and healthy, while burning fat and building lean muscle.


  4. Hi Partha,

    What an excellent article I need for my current workout routine because I always struggle with body fat. I think I am more like an average trainee, so I will take your suggestion to balance strength training and cardio in my regime.

    It’s very nice to share the tips that you just eat half rice or paste on rest days, and the video you attached here is quite helpful. I get lots of information I need to improve from you today, so I can tell that you provide your readers(me included) great value. 🙂

    Matt Lin

    • Hi Matt,

      Thank you ever so much for your kind words.

      It’s always nice to hear when someone finds some value in what I write, it makes me feel as though I’m doing something right, LOL.

      Yes, I’ve mentioned a few times that the body typically adapts to exercise over time, so the more we do, the more difficult it becomes to make changes.

      This is why it’s always important to focus on progression.

      This may involve adding more weight on the bar, doing workouts in a shorter time span, adding reps or sets, decreased rest periods, and so much more.

      There are literally hundreds of way to progress a workout routine to ensure that we are burning fat or building muscle.

      Glad to hear that you’re looking to make a few changes based on my recommendations.

      Please do let me know how you get on.

      I always love to hear back from you as to how things are going.


  5. Hi Partha. Confession: you did it – I am thinking more of you than of my husband when I do my exercises. LOL. Don’t worry, he knows. Whenever we discuss exercising my sentences often start with “Partha says…”

    But it’s a fact that I am starting to understand more about muscles and fat and ways of exercising now that I regular read your articles. I still don’t have the feeling I can pinpoint every aspect in the right way and I am far from being able to explain it to someone else (what for me is a sign I understand it truly), but I will get there. Even not being your target audience.

    You also make me laugh often. That picture of ‘the fat guy’! Hilarious.
    I won’t tell what I think of sixpacks with their underpants on their knees, ROFLOL.

    Not a question that fits this article, but do you have a recommendation for a Pilates workout? I never want to practice Pilates out of prejudice, installed by my physiotherapist. But I am getting to like that one workout I am trying now and I want to know moreabout it.

    • Hahaha,

      Oh Dear.

      I’m glad Tom’s an understanding man.

      However, it is lovely to hear that I am having an effect on you.

      I know you like to keep fit and healthy, so learning more and increasing your own knowledge is always a great way to do this.

      And don’t worry about not be able to “pinpoint” everything. This is an on-going learning process, even for me, and that’s one of the greatest things in life – we all have the opportunity to constantly learn and improve our knowledge in a wide variety of areas.

      LOL, how did I know that you’d love the boat photo?

      In fact, I even thought that you’d laugh at it when I was adding it to me my article, LMAO.

      As for pilates, I’m not a great one for it myself.

      Although, I have done a few workouts in order to improve my flexibility and mobility.

      A great YouTube star to follow is Cassy Ho of Blogilates.

      I believe she’s got over 5 million YouYube subcribers.

      Some of her stuff is quite advanced, but she does have a specific section for beginners (that’s normally where you’ll find me, LOL).

      You can check our her channel Blogilates here.



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