If you want a mean, chiseled physique, complete with six-pack abs, you must make your body suck the energy out of your fat cells, so that these cells will shrink and shrink, making you super lean. How to get Ripped Abs

When fat is burned, it doesn’t disappear into thin air. It goes somewhere: chiefly to your muscles where it’s used as fuel—fuel for exercise and fuel for post-workout recovery.

Fat cells, called adipocytes (adipose means fat, and cyte means cell) hold fat. They are microscopic storage tanks for your body’s “gasoline.” Just like the fuel tank in your car holds gas to run the vehicle, a fat cell holds fat to run your body.

Imagine that your car is always driven slowly, or, better yet, sits in the driveway with the engine idling. It’s not going to need much fuel. Imagine the fuel expenditure, though, when the car races down the highway or speeds up a steep hill.

Likewise, the body won’t need much fuel if it sits around idling, but the fuel needs will skyrocket if you do the right kinds of exercise. Your fat cell fuel tanks will get emptied. The difference is that, unlike a car’s fuel tank, a fat cell expands or shrinks depending on its fuel contents.

The fat inside these structures is waiting to be mobilized to tissue that needs it for energy. It doesn’t mobilize on its own. It awaits a specific signal.

The fat inside an adipocyte is called triaglycerol. This name refers to the molecular structure of the fat. The signal for this fat to be released into the bloodstream comes mainly from human growth hormone—elevated levels.

Where do higher levels of HGH come from?

From doing heavy compound lifts and high intensity cardio. HGH instructs adipocytes to release their fuel contents into the bloodstream, so that this energy can be transported to exhausted muscle cells.

In the bloodstream, triaglycerol is called free fatty acids (FFAs). With the fat cell being depleted of its contents, it shrinks—kind of like a balloon having the air let out of it: It shrinks in size. Imagine a cluster of fully inflated balloons. Now, imagine that half the air is let out of all of them. The cluster will take up less space, even though it’s the same number of balloons.

That’s kind of what goes on with your fat cells when they shrink, which is why burning fat is what makes you lose that pudgy, bloated look and become shredded.

The shrinkage, however, won’t stick around for long if you begin eating more food than you can burn for energy, or don’t work out enough to burn your food—like pumping air back into the balloons and making them take up more space again. You must be in a state of energy deficit to lose body fat.

The energy deficit can be created by exercise alone if you have good eating habits, or by calorie reduction if you’re overeating. The best way to create this deficit is through taking in fewer calories than you burn, without under-nourishing yourself, in combination with exercise that promotes an unleashing of anabolic hormones like HGH.

What happens once the FFAs (bloodstream fat) reach the muscle cell? The FFAs enter the mitochondria (singular, mitochondrion) of the cell, where the fat is converted to energy. Energy production (fat burning) occurs inside the mitochondria.

Fat gets burned inside muscle cells, though it disappears from fatty layers between your skin and muscle tissue. In other words, fat does not get burned where fat has accumulated—it only gets removed from its storage tank. If this is confusing, here’s another way to look at it:

Imagine a balloon filled with water that you’re holding sealed with your fingers. You release the pressure a bit and water trickles out of the balloon, shrinking it. However, the water isn’t being drank at the point it’s trickling out; it’s instead being deposited into a funnel with a long horizontal stem.

At the other end of the stem several feet away is a thirsty dog with its mouth open. The site where the water is being ingested does not occur at the site where it’s being released from the balloon.

Increasing a Muscle Cell’s Need for Fuel

Strength athletes have more mitochondria (mitochondrial density) than do sedentary people. Exercise that promotes mitochondrial density promotes more fat (fuel) burning. As the demands for a reliable and ready source of energy during workouts increase, the body adapts by building up more “metabolic machinery” inside the cell, and this machinery includes the mitochondria. Building up this machinery requires fat for fuel.

Recovering from these workouts also requires fat. Hence, the adipocytes are instructed by signaling molecules, including HGH, to release their contents into the bloodstream—shrinking fat cells, leaning you out.

Quantity and Size

Historically it was believed that the quantity of fat cells was determined in the womb, and that these cells can only change in size. It’s now known that, indeed, adipocytes can increase in number. Certain circumstances in adulthood can trigger this, such as pregnancy and when large amounts of body fat are gained by eating enormous quantities of food.

We are not all born with the same number of fat cells. Women are cursed with being born with more adipocytes than are men. The most likely reason behind this is to support a pregnancy. Lifestyle trumps what we are born with. Fat cells can be ballooned up to triple the size they should be, and likewise, they can be shrunk down so that they contain very little triaglycerol.

A normal adult has 25-30 billion fat cells. Overweight can drive this number up to 75 billion. In morbid obesity, the volume can reach 250-300 billion. This number doesn’t have to be permanent.

Adipocytes respond in a predictable way to a training stimulus, or, to phrase it more generically, to an energy or calorie deficit. It’s really simple: If you want to get lean, create an energy deficit. You do this by burning more calories than you ingest. This occurs by eating less and exercising more. It’s the law of thermodynamics and no human is exempt from this primal law of biology.

What about those who can’t seem to lose “stubborn” fat? Why aren’t their fat cells shrinking? What’s happening is that these individuals no longer exist in a state of energy deficit; they are in a state of maintenance. Something needs to be adjusted to shift them towards deficit.

Many times, the answer is to simply ramp up exercise intensity, or do more compound lifts and fewer isolation lifts. This will sock it to the muscles and force the body to sack the adipocytes for recovery fuel.

And sometimes, the exercise regimen is all in place, but the trainee is eating too much. He needs to reduce his caloric load so that the body isn’t forced to store unused calories as fat.

Another possibility is that the trainee isn’t eating enough, and the body has gone into the so-called starvation mode. Fat metabolism has been corrupted; things are off-balance.

Adjustments can be made. We are not prisoners of our genes or “body types.” Fat cells are very good at shrinking when the right training and nutritional programs are in place. This includes “stubborn” areas on the body, what we call the spare tire, muffin top, love handles and saddlebags. You do not have to live with these.

Remember, body fat is not burned where it takes up real estate in your gut or thighs; it’s burned in muscle cells. Fat shrinks or “disappears” when muscle tissue requires enough fat to trigger release of it from your body’s fat stores.