Can I Turn Fat Into Muscle?

Updated on September 14, 2017
Billi Grossman profile image

Billi is a registered dietitian nutritionist & has been helping people make better food choices for 20 yr.

Fat into Muscle?

People sometimes ask me to help them turn their excess fat into muscle. Honestly, this cannot be done. Muscle and fat are two completely different tissues. One does not turn into the other.

What Should I Eat to Change My Body Composition?

In order to burn fat or gain muscle, you must provide the body with good nutrition from a balanced diet.

  • Eating protein can help you release fat and retain or build muscle. Lean proteins (poultry, fish, beef, pork, eggs, beans and hard cheeses) will help you remain full longer and provide your body with the fuel it needs. The recommendation for protein is 0.8 to 1.0 grams per kg body weight. This means that a 110 lb woman would need 40-50 grams protein. However, if you are trying to lose weight or have increased metabolic needs, your nutritionist may recommend a higher amount.
  • One of the best proteins for building muscle and burning fat is whey. Not all whey is the same. A good quality, cold processed whey is vitally important. Inexpensive, commercial whey may be a product of the cheese industry where it is heated to a high temperature. Heating denatures (unwinds the helix of) the protein, reducing it’s nutrition and effectiveness. Denatured whey is less than healthy. Good quality, clean whey protein revs up metabolism, helping you burn fat, as well as retain and build muscle.
  • Carbohydrates are important for fuel. About 45% of your intake should come from carbs. Without carbohydrate in the diet, the body will likely break down muscle for energy before it uses fat. The type of carbohydrate you eat is important. While all break down into sugar eventually, whole, unrefined grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and dairy take longer to break down and generally provide more nutrients.
  • Timing of carbohydrate intake is important, too. If you give your body an unlimited supply of sugar, it will never get to the fat to burn. Good times for carbohydrate intake are the first meal of the day, after a fast, and to replenish glycogen before or after a workout. Try to avoid eating carbs in the evening. I recommend the last meal of the day no later than 7 pm.
  • Eating the right kinds of fat will help you lose weight. Fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and olives are great sources of good fats. The thing to remember about fat is that it accounts for more than twice the calories of either protein or carbs. A little goes a long way. Like fruits and grains, whole foods are better sources than refined oils. When using oils, choose olive oil for salads and uncooked foods and organic canola for heated foods.
  • Take a multivitamin Providing your body with all of the essential nutrients will help you have better weight loss success. Multivitamins should be naturally produced and the ingredients must be highly bioavailable forms (such as citrate, malate...)
  • Eat Organic Studies have shown that people who eat organic food have less exposure to toxins and carcinogens.

How Much Protein?

Portion Size
1 oz
7 grams
1 oz
7 grams
1 large
8 grams
Milk, Yogurt
1 cup
8 grams
1 oz
4-6 grams
1 oz
7 grams
Cottage Cheese
1/2 cup
15 grams

Fat Burning

Hormones and toxins are sequestered in fat cells as a way of reducing oxidation and toxicity. Your body resists releasing toxins and hormones that are stored in fat into your bloodstream. The release of these toxins into the bloodstream is the reason that people who are dieting often feel awful after a few days.A cellular detox will help greatly. Once the toxins are released from the fat cells, the body can begin to burn the fat.

You can train your body to burn fat for energy by restricting calories and using intermittent fasting. There are several ways to do this. Some detox programs sharply restrict calories for 1-2 days once a week or every other week. This may be accompanied with a herbal detox, juice or water flush. A gentler way is to allow enough time between your last meal of the day and your morning meal to burn the glycogen (stored sugar) in your muscles and liver. Somewhere between 13 and 16 hours, your body will begin to break down muscle for energy. At the time that blood sugar begins to rise, you need to eat! You can test your blood sugar to find your personal timing. If you don't want to go to the trouble and expense of testing your blood sugar, break your fast between 13 and 14 hours in order to reduce the chance of breaking down muscle.

You can also increase fat burning through thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is simply the heat that your body produces. Do you ever feel warm after you eat? That is Thermogenesis. Spicy foods, coffee, tea, chocolate, lemon, garlic and other foods will help to increase your body heat. This won't melt the fat off miraculously, but some of us need all the help we can get!

Building Muscle

A strength training program will help you increase muscle mass. During exercise, muscle is broken down. During rest, it repairs. The repaired muscle is larger than the original. Increasing muscle mass will cause your metabolism to burn hotter and you will lose weight even faster.

To build muscle, there are some tricks you can use.

  • In order to build muscle, you need to use them. You need to exercise. Focus on different muscle groups every other day and allow them repair on alternate days.
  • Eat enough calories. If you don't get enough calories, your body won't have the fuel or building blocks it needs to grow muscle. A Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist can calculate your needs.
  • Eat plenty of protein. Protein provides amino acids to regenerate muscle. I recommend eating protein every time you eat and up to 2 grams per kg body weight.
  • If you are working out hard, have a whey protein shake before your workout or within 20 minutes after you complete. This will provide amino acids to build muscle and carbohydrate to fuel your workout and replenish your glycogen.
  • On lighter workout days, replenish with an electrolyte drink. Thirst sometimes mimics hunger and you want to be sure to satisfy your thirst and provide your body with adequate minerals.

In Short

Burning fat and gaining muscle occur by different mechanisms. You will lose fat when you burn more calories than you take in. You can set your body up to burn fat by spacing your meals at least 3 hours apart during the day and allowing a 13-16 hour rest period through the night. A Registered Dietitian can help you understand your calorie needs based on your size, age, gender, activity level and weight loss goals.

Building muscle will facilitate fat burning. Combine healthy eating and meal timing with regular exercise. Alternate strength training with with 30-60 minutes of cardio 3-5 days per week. Note: you want to give your muscles a rest, so if you are working out daily, focus on different muscle groups. Fuel your workouts and replenish your glycogen with good quality whey protein shakes, electrolytes and plenty of fluids.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2016 Billi Grossman


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