Muscle does not "turn into fat" if you stop doing workouts | Fit&Well

Muscle does not "turn into fat" if you stop doing workouts

40% of British gymgoers believe muscle turns into fat if you stop doing workouts, but it's not true

Muscle
(Image credit: iStock)

Gyms are places full of good advice. If you want to learn how to get fit and healthy, your local gym is the place to go. However, make sure you're only listening to qualified professionals on the subject: in the health and fitness community, bad and unscientific advice and untruths are rife. 

It's easy to see how popular gym myths propagate. If you've ever believed a cardio session under 20 minutes isn't worth doing, or it's not been a good workout if you're not sore the next day, you're not alone: all these are common fitness misconceptions.   

Another common untruth is the idea muscle will "turn into fat" if you stop exercising. According to a poll of 2,486 gymgoers collected by MyVitalMetrics, a London outfit conducting science-based body-composition assessments, 40% of the participants believed muscle actually turns into fat if you stop exercising. 

This is untrue: fat cells are very different from muscle on every level, from makeup to function. Where the myth seems to come from is that when you stop training your muscles to become stronger, they undergo a process known as atrophy, or muscle wastage. If the muscle is not needed, it will shrink, as it is no longer undergoing the strains of tearing and healing it requires to get stronger. 

(Image credit: iStock)

In addition, when you stop exercising, you are of course expending fewer calories. The International Journal of Obesity shows us the relationship between energy intake and energy expenditure is directly related to obesity. If you're expending less energy, you have to reduce your food intake to avoid gaining weight.

Of course, this is more difficult than it sounds. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found high-intensity exercise increases your appetite. If you simply stop working out, you might be so used to eating more to fuel your body that your increased appetite remains, even when you're not expending very much energy. 

The end result is more excess energy being stored as fat. Therefore, while muscle doesn't necessarily turn into fat per say, your muscles do shrink, and people do tend to accumulate fat instead, when you stop exercising. It's easy to see how the myth became so commonplace.  

Swiss ball

(Image credit: Getty)

It's not just the myth above that's widely believed: a huge 64% of study participants believed you should work out every day, despite the fact rest days are very important. Another 45% believed you should do at least 20 minutes of cardio to make it worthwhile, when studies show even short runs help you live longer.  

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