Turning Fat into Muscle: Do the Math!

By Martin Brown

Take two women, both of whom weigh 123 pounds and stand five-foot seven. One looks heavy, and the other one looks trim. What accounts for the difference?

In a word, muscle.

Before the industrial age — when we began figuring out a variety of ways to make machines do the work we previously had to do for ourselves — everyone,  man woman and child, had leaner more muscular bodies. Whether you were walking great distances, or hauling wood for fire or shelter, or bending over constantly, humans were always in motion.

Today for so many of us, toned arms, legs, hips, backs and shoulders have given way to all those obvious and not so obvious places where fat accumulates on our bodies.

A pound of fat weighs the same as a pound of muscle, just like a pound of marshmallows weighs the same as a pound of rocks. The difference is that a bag holding a pound of fat (just like the one holding a pound of marshmallows) has to be a lot bigger than the bag holding a pound of muscle or rocks.

That same space requirement plays out when applied to our bodies. Those two women, both weighing 123 pounds, have completely different shapes, largely because one is fat dominant and the other is muscle dominant.

But that pound of muscle — besides making you look leaner — does one other wonderful thing for you: we burn approximately 2 calories a day for each pound of fat that we carry, but for each pound of muscle, we burn 50 calories per day.

So muscle pays big dividends in allowing us to consume more calories each day without having to “watch our weight.”

That said, if our two women (one a gym regular and the other…not) had a difference of ten pounds of muscle and fat, the leaner one could consume 480 calories more per day, without gaining an ounce.

At this point you’re probably wondering, how can I get some more of that calorie-burning muscle, and lose some to this unproductive fat. In truth, muscle tone can be gained in a variety of ways. But now that we’re no longer hauling water or firewood up to our camp, or beating laundry against river rocks, we have to be a little more creative.

Thank goodness that there’s a booming exercise industry, which has gotten creative for us and provided us with countless ways to move, lift, and stretch. When you’re not at your desk, not on the couch, and not sitting on a bus, train, or in your own car, there’s a good chance you’re doing things that will add to your muscle tone. From working in the garden to pushing a vacuum cleaner, from washing the car to cleaning the windows, you’re raising your level of muscle tone.

However, the problem with daily chores is you’d have to do more of them then there are hours in the day to achieve the kind of tone you’d like to see. That said, the fast way to add muscle is through more pronounced acts of exertion.

Those shoulders on swimmers are no accident. Those calf and glut muscles on runners and distance walkers are no coincidence. The fastest way to add muscle is with weight resistance training.

Don’t think that means going into competition with Wonder Woman. You can start out and get a lot of benefit from weights that are just two to three pounds each. There’s about a thousand books on weight lifting for women made easy. And those who take the time to learn something about resistance training often get hooked on the activity. The hard work can be a bit of a drag, but those toned arms, that flat tummy, rising butt and shapely legs is enough of a reward to get you addicted.

Take time and enjoy the process of swapping fat for muscle. It’s a choice you’ll be happy you made!


Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for SingleMindedWomen.com, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right.

His latest book is Fit in 50 Days.

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