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Why can't this extra fat be used to build my muscles?

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I understand the theory (ok, some of it) about needing a calorie surplus to build muscle and a calorie deficit to lose fat.  It makes sense that the two would be contrasting goals.  At least sort of....

But just out of curiousity...I have all this extra fat floating around (about 50-60 pounds).  Why can't my body use that for it's muscle building energy?  

I have stored energy that could keep the lights on in a small town!  There ought to be a way to hook me up as an emergency generator. 

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It can -- its called resistant training.  The "Total Gym" as seen on TV by Chuck Norris uses your body weight for the "weight lifting" effect.  If you do push ups you will be using your own weight to build the muslce. Doing lunges and squats without weights will also help.


I know this really isn't what you meant- but I would start working muscles now even while you are in weight loss mode - so although you may not be "building muscle" you are getting them ready to be shown to the world once the weight comes off - also by working the muscles now you will lose inches more quickly so the weight loss will show up quicker too.  Muscle takes up less space than fat - so if your weight loss by lbs may not be as quick as you hope you may find you are losing inches instead.

I am technically overweight but my bodyfat % is in a healthy range because I incorportate weight lifting with my weight loss efforts.  

Also maybe look for a higher percent of protein to help build the muscle.  You don't have to worry about bulking up -- women won't get bulky so don't be affraid of the heavy weights.  Work those muscles it will help you burn that fat in the "afterburn".   

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All metabolic processes are called either "anabolic" or "catabolic".  Anabolic processes build complex molecules out of simpler ones, while catabolic processes tear complex molecules down into simpler ones.

Building muscle is anabolic process -- it (in part) builds muscle proteins out of amino acids in the bloodstream.  But storing fat is also an anabolic process -- it (in part) builds fat out of fatty acids in the bloodstream.

On the flip side, burning fat is a catabolic process -- but so is burning muscle.

At any given moment, the overall hormonal state (relative levels of hormones like testosterone, insulin, human growth hormone, cortisol, ...) of the bloodstream is primarily anabolic or primarily catabolic.  The anabolic state is favorable to building muscle but also to storing fat.  Likewise the catabolic state is favorable to burning fat but also to tearing down muscle.

In an overall calorie surplus, the body favors anabolic processes; in an overall calorie deficit, catabolic ones.  I emphasize "overall" and "favors" because short of disease you can't keep the body in a purely anabolic or catabolic state for a long time -- "building up" and "tearing down" are both essential phases (for example, dead cells have to be torn down, and new cells have to built up).

Now, to get to your question ;-), "energy" has little to do with this -- it doesn't take all that much energy for digestion to break dietary protein into amino acids, or to reassemble amino acids into muscle proteins.  Even in a large calorie deficit, food supplies enough energy to do those things.  It's far more a matter of "convincing" the body it "should" use amino acids to build muscle instead of burning them for energy, and of boosting levels of anabolic hormones, while cutting levels of catabolic hormones, in the bloodstream.  Short of taking anabolic steroids, strength-training and consuming an overall calorie surplus are the most effective ways to do this.

Get a feel for what a balancing act this is?  Losing fat without losing muscle too is, to some extent, fighting the body's natural tendencies, and the further you are from calorie balance the harder that fight is (for example, the larger the overall calorie deficit and the longer it's sustained, the more time the body will spend in catabolic states than in anabolic states, making it a struggle for most people (genetics do vary) to avoid losing muscle too).

"Losing weight" is a lot easier than just losing fat; likewise "gaining weight" is a lot easier than just gaining muscle (and seeing as you have first-hand experience with this one, hoping to be exempt from the other isn't likely to be rewarded ;-)).
I'm with Tim on this one.
Damn that was good!  Woo, I think I just got a science high!!!
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Well, it's really all lies-to-children, but that's what scientists mostly do too ;-)  The human body is so staggeringly complex our brains may not be big enough to comprehend it all.

If you can accept this level of lying, then some other things get clearer too.  For example, for someone trying to lose fat without losing muscle, it's positively helpful to eat at (even a bit above) maintenance level a day or two per week.  That encourages spending more time in anabolic states, despite the overall (over a week) calorie deficit (and also acts to prevent the body from slowing metabolism in an attempt to adapt to relelentless calorie deficit).

Thinking is better than crack -- although sometimes just as delusional ;-)
I have to take a slight exception to the science lesson.  The trick to building muscle is (in a manner of speaking) convincing the body that it should build muscle.  You probably cannot build muscle while you are doing the sorts of things that burn fat (or use fat as an energy source), but doing things that burn fat generally requires the use of muscles and as a result encourage the body to build more muscle.  If you spend an hour or so engaged in aerobic exercise -- anything from bicycling to dance to martial arts to walking -- your are converting stored energy to the energy that enables your muscles to do work.  Some of that stored energy will be glucose or glycogen and some of it will be fat.  If you plan your diet right, you will replace the glucose/glycogen and build more muscle but you won't replace (all of) the fat.  Hence you will lose weight and gain muscle.
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If you're near overall calorie balance, that can work.  So long as you're in a significant calorie deficit, unlikely (not impossible, but just won't happen for most people, except for a brief spurt of muscle growth at the start for someone new to it).  Even bodybuilders on steroids often lose significant muscle mass while enduring significant calorie deficits when cutting fat for a competition.
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hm,, let me see if i get this right.

i currently do 1200 calories of cardio in the monrings. then at night i do 1-2 of weight lifting.

when i worked this out with my BMR, i came to say that i sue 4500 calories a day. Now i am trying to consume 3500 calories a day, all of which is low fat protien, and carbs such as bananas/brown pasta veg etc..

that brings me to a deficit of 1000 cals, does this then mean that i won't effectivly build muscle as well?
That made more sense than anything has all day!  Thanks again tgpish.  Science is so cool.
Exactly cliques.  You can certainly get a bit stronger and maintain your muscle mass but gaining would be very difficult if not impossible on that much of a deficit.  But if you are trying to lose fat that is perfect because the weightlifting will help you keep the muscle you have which is very important. 

Tim you make my brain hurt sometimes
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If anyone's brain aches ;-), just choose to believe this short article.

Any number of other bodybuilding sites will tell you much the same thing, although usually with more words.

Bodybuilders are worth listening to on this subject, because gaining muscle while slashing fat is key to their sport, and they have a demonstrated track record of succeeding to extraordinary degrees at both.  If they knew an efficient way to do both at the same time, that's what they'd do -- but they nearly all alternate between "bulking up" and "cutting fat" phases, year after year.  Whether or not you want to be a bodybuilder, the same principles apply to everyone.

cliques, the e-book hawked at the start of the first referenced article is in fact an excellent guide to what bodybuilders (well, drug-free bodybuilders) actually do in a "fat-loss phase".  If you could profit from a book-length treatment of the topic, I don't know of any better source.  All the info is "out there" for free too, but I don't know of any free source that covers it all and without mixing in goofy advice too.

One of the things it will tell you is to get enough dietary fat.  "Good fat" is an essential nutrient, and going too low on fat can actually slow progress.  Aim to get 20-30% of calories from good (unsaturated) fats.  Clinical studies have shown fine weight-loss progress on diets as high as 60%(!) fat -- it's not so much that fat is fat, it's more that fat is so dense in calories, that makes a typical "high-fat diet" so fattening (a typical high-fat diet is typically sky-high in calories too).
Tim oh Tim, are you single
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LOL -- yes -- but I'm also 55, and would urge you to start lifting weights.  Hmm.  Maybe that's why I'm single ;-)

I'm living proof of the effects of a diet that is too low in fat.  I was struggling to drop even .5 lbs a week even though I had daily deficits that should support a 1.5 loss... At the time my consumed fat level was about 15%..

I've raised it to approx 25% and the wgt is dropping at about 1.5/week...although my deficits have also dropped to support about 1 lb per week...

I'm now within about 5 lbs or less of my goal and dropping any lbs has gotten to be a real challenge...I also, despite my age, and an advanced wgt lifter and am trying to maintain my muscle while shedding the fat...Once I lose these last few lbs I plan to go back to my building phase...just in time for winter and wearing more clothes! It's always hard to put on muscle without putting on some fat too!

Fat is necessary in the diet...just avoid the saturated kind...

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ahh, very helpful indeed. i can see this in myslef now, 2 months ago i was shredding of a lot of fat. This is also when i was eating more nuts and seeds.

thanks for the sources!
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Joan, have you tried "carb cycling"?  There are many schemes that go by that name, but they all involve mixing "low carb" days with "high carb" days one way or another.  For example, here's a particularly simple carb-cycling scheme.

I hate doing it :-(, because going low on carbs really hurts my weight workouts.  However, it's the most effective thing I've ever tried in the past for getting through a plateau / losing "the last few" pounds.  As with any low-carb gimmick, it's mostly water weight that falls off at first, and much of that is regained on your first "high carb" day.  But keep at it through a few cycles and you may be pleasantly surprised.  If I could tolerate feeling weak in my weight sessions, I'd probably do it all the time.

cliques, yup, "good fat" is good!  Some kinds of fish (e.g., salmon) are excellent sources of both protein and good fats.  The problem with nuts for me is that I love nuts, and if I don't count out each nut I end up eating way too many calories -- but I feel like an idiot counting nuts.  An easy way to change your current diet would be to take, e.g., fish oil capsules.  Depends on how hungry you normally get -- the capsules won't fill you up, and you'll need to eat less food to make up for the calories in the fish oil.  For those reasons, "real fish" is my favorite way to get good fats.
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 notice nobody mentioned it,  do note that cell building requires protein.  All the fat in the world will NOT make a cell. Will provide energy to make a cell but you do need the right ingriedents to build a cell and the right instructions from ones body (that can comes with the stress of doing weight training).
just what i did:

diet to lose some wt then stop when i stalled
then eat maintain cals while being active until i lose a pound
restart diet
(this happens over a few months and has kept my skin normal looking through a almost 90 lb loss)

what happened:
BF % went down
gained 5 lbs of muscle(noticed this one this month)
am smaller at same wt

i have been cycling this.

and the only special thing i do:
have slimfast protien stuff (shakes bars etc)

otherwise i have a natural tendency to be lower carb
(not low carb just towards the minimum carb intake)
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nsgamer:  Heh.  Did you really read any of this as recommending a no-protein diet?

Of course protein is essential.  But, if you didn't know it, all the protein in the world can't make a cell either!  It's not that simple.  For example, linoleic acid is necessary to build a cell's membrane, and linoleic acid can only be obtained from diet (it's one of the so-called "essential" fatty acids, called "essential" for the same reason 9 of the amino acids are called "essential":  the human body cannot produce them on its own -- you get 'em from food, or you don't get 'em at all).

So eat your salmon and get all of it :-)
Never fear Tim...I am lifting weights!  Bodypump twice a week - which you may tell me is not weight lifting but you don't know my instructor, she pushes us to up weights if she notices we can finish a set AND makes us keep perfect form.  it = hella toning.  Also once a week I do the freeweights on my own. 

Also I think nsgamer was logically answering the original question:  why can't the body use excess body fat for building muscle?  B/c muscles are made of protein and fat cannot be converted into protein, that's why.  Protein to fat yes and carbs to fat yes.  

To build muscle it seems to me the first and foremost thing your body needs is incentive.  The incentive to build it, through weight lifting.  Then you supply it with the things it needs to make the muscle building happen.  But without creating the need for muscle your body won't make it. 

Funny how we store fat for later use but we don't create muscle just in case we need it later.      
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