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Q&A: If I Stop Lifting Weights, Will My Muscle Turn to Fat?

Jose Manuel Segovia / flickr

Q: If I stop lifting weights, will my muscle really turn to fat?

A: Muscle cannot turn to fat. However, what is commonly experienced with former athletes is a decrease in training without a subsequent decrease in calories consumed. In other words, if you’ve been lifting weights regularly, you’ve built muscle, which in turn raises your metabolism. You’re performing exercise programs that in and of themselves burn calories. So if you were to stop exercising, the muscle will go away as there is no need or stimulus for it to stay. Then here’s what happens:

First your metabolism will slow. Studies have shown that 1 pound of muscle requires upwards of 20 or so calories per day. So losing just 5 pounds of muscle would cut metabolism by 100 calories per day.

Secondly, if you are training 4 times per week and lifting weights intensely, that's another 400 to 500 calories burned per workout , plus a couple of hundred calories after your workout through a process known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. So that can amount to another 2000 to 2500 calories per week. Add that together with only a 5 pound muscle loss and you're looking at a drop in caloric expenditure of 3200+ calories per week.

So with that much of a difference in calories burned, unless you adjust calories consumed, you’re going to see a fat gain of around 1 pound per week.

So while muscle cannot turn into fat, we can see that dropping caloric expenditure and removing the need for the body to maintain muscle without adjusting calories consumed will cause your body to lose muscle and gain fat almost simultaneously. This gives the impression that a former athlete's muscle has turned to fat.

To avoid it, maintain some form of strength training in your lifestyle even after you've retired from athletic competition and always monitor your nutrition.

Alwyn Cosgrove is renowned for his fat loss training programs and for being a dynamic and educational speaker. He’s the owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California and the author of The New Rules of Lifting. Learn more at AlwynCosgrove.com.

Tags: Resistance Training, Build Muscle, Weight Loss, Q&A