Why do so many weightlifters and bodybuilders start to look a little ‘soft’ around the edges when they take an extended break from exercising? Has their muscle really turned to fat?

Fuel Factor

As we all know, people who work out regularly tend to eat more food in order to fuel their exercise, recuperation and muscular growth. When they take a break from lifting though, the need to consume all these extra calories immediately becomes redundant, as the ‘fuel’ simply isn’t needed any more. Despite this, many resting lifters continue to consume the same amount of calories as they did when they were active, even though their energy expenditure is nothing like it once was. This can easily lead to weight gain, and not the kind we welcome.

Mind The Gap

Despite what popular perceptions may be, muscles don’t somehow magically change into fat cells (which are entirely different types of cells designed to fulfil entirely dissimilar functions) when an actively fit person stops exercising; they just start to shrink. This reduction in size leads to space being created; space which is more often than not claimed by that most unwelcome of colonisers, adipose tissue – in other words, fat.

So really, muscle doesn’t turn into fat, it gets replaced by it!

Hypertrophy Story

Exercise, especially that which results in hypertrophy, causes skeletal muscles to get bigger. However, this doesn’t mean that a person who does hypertrophic exercise obtains more muscle cells when they work out regularly; it simply means that their existing skeletal muscle cells become larger and take up more space at the cellular level.

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