5 Things You Didn't Know About Muscle and Fat

PLN expert coaches unveil five things you may not have known about muscle and fat.

Published On October 14, 2023
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5 Things You Didn’t Know about Muscle and Fat

The human body is an amazing and intricate creation. Your body is capable of converting food into energy, maintaining a healthy internal temperature, producing new cells, eliminating waste, and doing thousands of other tasks without your active participation or direction.

There are many myths and incomplete truths regarding the human body and how it functions, particularly in regard to muscle and fat. Since there is a supplement for everything and a never-ending stream of late-night infomercials claiming to have the next best invention for fat loss or muscle building, it can be difficult to sort out the facts from fiction when it comes to body composition.

We've compiled a few essential points concerning muscle and fat for you to take away to help you make the correct decisions when you're ready to get healthier and optimize your body composition, with the hopes that this will help shine some light on these concerns and cut through the clutter.

1. Truth About Muscle

There's a common misconception that only athletes need to focus on muscle building. If you're not an elite athlete, there's no reason for you to train for muscle growth. Everyone needs to be able to fight off infection, even if they don't need to (or want to) fend off an opposing defensive back.

Just what role does muscle play in the spread of disease? 

Protein is a vital macronutrient for optimal bodily health and function. Water and protein make up the bulk of muscle. The amount of protein your body needs increases dramatically while you're under stress (sick), often by as much as four times the typical amount.

Muscles can be thought of as big protein reserves, therefore, if you don't get enough protein from your diet, your body will start breaking them down to provide the amino acids it needs. If your muscles aren't fully grown or are undeveloped, you won't be able to fight off infections as effectively and may be more vulnerable to subsequent infections. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that…

Acute loss of muscle mass and function may push an individual beyond the threshold which makes recovery of normal function difficult at any time if there was a preexisting shortage of muscle mass before trauma.  

The main point is that restoring strength and function may be greatly aided by focusing on muscle gain.

2. There are two different kinds of fat, with visceral and subcutaneous fat being the most harmful

Most people are aware that being overweight has health risks, but few understand the underlying mechanisms. New studies show that your fat mass is not merely dead weight like a sack of sand, but rather metabolically active tissue that performs many of the same functions as an organ.

However, excess visceral fat acts to undermine your body's other organs, which are geared toward maintaining optimal health.

Harvard Medical School warns that having a lot of fat on your body, especially in your belly, might have serious consequences for your health. Although cytokines aren't inherently detrimental, the kinds of cytokines released by visceral fat can have severe consequences for insulin resistance, cholesterol level, and blood pressure.  

Visceral obesity is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes over time. Because they appear "healthy" compared to obese people, slender fat people may be unaware that their high visceral fat content puts them at risk for certain diseases. In reality, the dangers to one's health are comparable for both. Fortunately, reducing overall body fat helps mitigate some of the damage caused by visceral fat.  

3. Having a "Lean Body Mass" Is Distinct from the Term “Muscle”

Thin Frame. Muscle without fat. Body Muscle. Muscle Mass in the Skeleton. It's simple to get confused by the abundance of similar-sounding phrases. How similar are they?

The most frequent misunderstanding occurs when people use the terms "lean mass" and "lean gains" interchangeably. Many people mistakenly believe that muscle mass is the same as lean body mass.

It's true that gaining muscle means gaining lean mass, but that doesn't make muscle growth the same as lean mass gains. Muscle is only one component of what's known as "Lean Body Mass," which also accounts for water, bone, and everything else in the body except for fat. 

While it's not expected that the mass of your organs or bones will vary, the volume and mass of your muscles and water can shift in response to a number of factors. Since bodily water is considered part of LBM, gaining weight through adequate intracellular hydration is likewise considered a “lean gain.”

Muscle gains are also lean mass gains, however, not all lean mass gains are muscle gains. Get it?

4. Muscle Doesn't Turn to Fat

Even though you knew that couldn't happen, you still find yourself repeating, "My muscle turned into fat," every once in a while.

However, despite being a remarkable machine, your body does not have a mechanism for turning muscle into fat. You were once lean and muscular, but now you have less muscle and seem flabbier, which is why many people make the comment that their muscle has turned into fat when they stop working out frequently. But what's really happening is a shift in body composition, specifically, a reduction in muscle mass and an increase in fat mass.

There's a wide range of possible causes for this. When people, particularly notably athletes, quit working out completely and keep eating the same way they did when they were competing, they often experience a loss of muscle and gain of fat in the off-season. This is due to the fact that reducing your daily activity level greatly reduces your TDE, or daily calorie expenditure. To sum up, the process of converting muscle to fat does not exist. Reduce your food intake in proportion to your reduced activity level.   

5. A lack of muscle makes it less desirable to be thin

A person's weight is often the first thing that comes to mind when they think about physical unhealthiness. People tend to picture a slim person when they think of someone who is physically fit.

Don't jump to conclusions; a healthy appearance is more than skin deep. The contrary is usually the case. People who put in a lot of effort to maintain their thin appearance (think runway models) can sometimes go too far, losing so much muscle mass and weight that they develop eating disorders. This is why, in 2015, the French government made it illegal to employ runway models with body mass indexes (BMIs) of less than 18.

However, not everyone can be a runway model, and sarcopenic obesity, sometimes known as "skinny fat," is a lot more prevalent condition that some thin people experience that is obviously not healthy. Despite their apparent thinness, skinny fat persons often have a body fat percentage comparable to that of an obese person because they lack a sufficient amount of muscular mass.  

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