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Debunking myths: Muscles turn to fat

PETALING JAYA – The short answer is, of course, no. Thinking that muscles can turn into fat would be like thinking a runny nose has something to do with toe nail growth – the two aren’t directly related.

“They are different biological compounds to begin with,” said fitness expert Jerrican Tan, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.

“Fats are made of fatty acids and glycerol, and muscles are from protein made out of amino acids.”

When we eat protein-rich food, the nutrient is broken down into amino acids and eventually becomes muscle.

“Consumption of fatty food gets stored as fat when eaten in excess,” said fitness coach Kedric Kwan, who has a Master’s in Sports and Exercise Nutrition.

It is a little counter-intuitive, but when we work out, we are actually damaging our muscles.

Exercise causes microtears in muscles and depletes the body’s muscle-building nutrients.

After we exercise – about 45 minutes to an hour – our body starts repairing the damage.

Simply put, it is this repair that strengthens muscles.

The idea that muscle turns to fat when the exercise stops may stem from seeing someone put on weight after they stop working out.

“Fat gain is largely dependent on food intake,” said Kwan.

“During periods of exercise, more food can be consumed without putting on weight. This is because the food is used as fuel during exercise.

“However, appetite doesn’t really change when the exercise stops.

“Hence, when food intake remains the same and the body isn’t burning most of it as energy, it will be stored as body fat, causing the illusion that muscle has turned into fat.”

Someone who stops exercising, either by choice or because of an injury, may lose whatever muscle gains they already have.

“You lose it when you don’t use or nourish it,” said Tan. “It’s called muscle atrophy.”

When you exercise, you put stress and resistance on muscles; this triggers the body to get stronger and overcome the stress.

“When you stop working out, this resistance or stress is gone and so is the stimulus,” explained Kwan.

After a while, muscle atrophy or muscle wasting sets in, resulting in decreased muscle mass and weakness.

So, your muscles actually shrink, as opposed to becoming anything that resembles body fat.

Muscles are needed to help us function in our daily lives.

“Core strength is necessary to live a healthy and active life,” said Jenny Tison, a CrossFit Level 2 trainer.

“Strong abdominals and back muscles can reduce our risk of injury and help with our balance.”

This strength and stability isn’t just useful during workouts, but for everyday tasks too.

You can perform physical activities better, like moving furniture or just being able to lift your carry-on bag into the overhead compartment on a plane, Tison said.

It is also important to keep our back and core muscles strong because of our lifestyle.

“These muscles are mostly unused, especially if we have a sedentary job that requires us to sit for most of the day,” Kwan said.

“They also help keep postural integrity that may help prevent aches and pains in the future.

“A strong upper back can prevent slouching and good posture is always attractive.”

Unless you have an injury or other medical conditions that prevent you from exercising, it is important to keep your muscles in top form.

If you are not someone who exercises regularly, starting right is very important.

Talk to your doctor and get a qualified trainer to help you slowly ease into a more active lifestyle.

“Developing muscle mass and strength boils down to gradually increasing the stimulus you put on your body,” he said.

Depending on the muscle tone you are trying to achieve, Tan suggested starting with high-intensity aerobic exercises such as running.

You can also add some squats, jump squats, walking lunges, push-ups and pull-ups, he said, but you have to be mindful of your technique, and also safety.

“Building muscle is like building a relationship,” he added.

“It takes effort to get it. And once you have it, you need to maintain or you may lose it.”

Published at Fri, 22 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000