Giants VS Little People – Body Fat, Metabolism, Lean Body Mass, etc.

April 12, 2010

People don’t talk enough about height and how it relates to body composition, calories burned, muscle gains, etc. I’m a tall guy at just a hair over 6’3″, but I’m envious of shorter people at times. I figured why not get the discussion going about height. Using my mad graphic skillz (not really), I came up with this masterpiece.

Giants vs Little People

[Everyone knows Chewbacca, but only the true geeks like me know what’s happening on the right. A young Gary Coleman posing with “Twiki” from Buck Rogers. Twiki carried a computer around his neck named “Dr. Theopolis”. Buck Rogers is worth watching if you get the chance…for the cheesy disco music and bad special effects. Hilarious!]

Height and Plays a Large Role in Lean Mass

Your lean mass is basically everything on your body that isn’t body fat. This is different than muscle mass. Your lean mass includes, bones, organs, water, muscles. A taller person will naturally have bigger organs, bigger bones, more water, than a shorter person. So they (will typically) have a higher lean body mass than a shorter person even without much muscular development. Tall people have a huge advantage in lean mass…which means they will typically burn more calories than their shorter friends. But what if someone is shorter but more muscular?

Your Organs Burn More Calories Than Your Muscles

I’m 6’3″ and 190…I have a good friend who is 5’10 and 190. We are roughly the same body fat percentage. He has more muscle, so you would think that he would have a higher RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate). That assumption would be wrong. I will burn substantially more calories than him. Roughly 60% of RMR is from organs and 40% from muscle. Since I am tall, he will have to reach a higher lean body mass than me to reach the same RMR.

The Biggest Mistake I See Muscular People Make

I was going to do this post just on this idea alone. It is probably the biggest “takeaway”. Guys in particular who get big believe they need many more calories due to their increase in muscle mass. Adding muscle contributes very little to calories burned (even less than I used to believe). Think along the lines of 6 calories per pound of muscle each day. So adding 20-30 pounds of lean muscle is just an extra 120-180 calories burned per day.

30 Pounds of Muscle Fails Against One Pack of Skittles


[Adding 30 pounds sounds like a impressive feat…and it is…but can’t touch the power of just one pack of Skittles. I haven’t had a pack of Skittles in a long time, but is is right up there with Swedish Fish, Red Vines, and Gummy Bears in pure deliciousness.]

Adding Muscle Makes a Bigger Impact on a Shorter Person

As a somewhat tall guy, I can add 5 pounds of muscle and it won’t be as noticeable as someone 6 inches shorter doing the same thing. The advantage of being shorter is that you don’t have to spend as much time adding muscle to achieve a certain look compared to someone who is taller. Another advantage is the increased leverage a shorter person has when it comes to lifting. I used to work out with a guy who was 8 inches shorter than me back in high school. It was frustrating how much stronger he was in many of the lifts…especially the bench press. It took me a couple of years to just bench 225 pounds and I think he was doing it within a few weeks of training. Stupid long arms!

Eating With a Taller Person or Lifting With A Shorter Person

As a relatively tall person I have much more wiggle room when it comes to diet than most people. More often than not, I simply have a higher RMR than a person who is shorter than me. I still can’t pig out and expect to be lean, but I will have a slightly easier time than a shorter person (everything else being equal). When it comes to the gym it is a different deal. Guys who are in the 5’6″ – 5’10” range with the same amount of lifting experience often are stronger than me in certain lifts (mainly pressing movements like bench or military press). This isn’t always the case, but just a trend I notice.

These Are Just a Few of the Differences…

I kind of just want to get this conversation started and get the comments rolling along. Height is one of those things I don’t read much about when it comes to getting in shape, dieting, etc. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject and other points I missed. Let’s get this party started!

Note: Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I just got back from a vacation and I tried my best to stay away from the Internet while I was away.

Important Message: Although this site has received 25+ million visitors, I am starting from scratch and abandoning it. This site is dated and old school looking, terrible to read on mobile, etc.

It's like a Ford Pinto compared to my new site...which is like a Ferrari. Click the link to head over to my new site.

Starting Over...R.I.P. Fitness Black Book!

Thanks for reading all these years!


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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

susanne April 15, 2010 at 1:12 pm

To Sue G:

You’ve just confused me here.

You write that you don’t want to lose weight, but then at the end you write that you want to lose fat/flab? Sorry sister, but there is No magic formula here. Just eat less!

Russell Campbell April 16, 2010 at 2:01 am

Hey Rusty,
Glad you enjoyed your vacation. Just got back from Thailand and the beaches and food are fantastic.

Interesting post. Actually as a shorter guy 5 81/2 I envey tall guys. Let me explain. I prefer the lean look but also want to be strong. For me to get as strong as a taller guy I automatically look stockier. But I dont want to lose the strength. I think a lot of shorter guys have a bit more “bodybuilder look” not for the look but for the strength and the confidence in terms of defence this brings out in the real world. Unfortunate but the world can be a scary place and short guys do get picked on much more than the bigger guys.

Great to see your site getting more popular by the day. Oh and I heard gary Taubes will be at the UW soon. Might be worth checking out.

Cheers, Russ

Bill April 16, 2010 at 10:05 am

Hi Rusty,

Awesome post. Hope you and your significant other enjoyed a really great one Rusty. Agree us slightly shorter guys (I’m between 5 – 9 and 5-10) so use the strength advantage to get lean dense muscle, while banging the HIIT big time.

Want to say your ‘Visual Impact’ and ‘Ninja Treadmill’ have helped greatly, along with some bw intervals you mentioned from Craig’s Crazy 8.

Wondering what training / nutrition tips you feel are best to get to 5% bf for the summer doing my above mentioned training. Always enjoy your tips, and truly appreciate your honesty in this day and age of meathead bs out there.

Have a Good One !


Sue G April 16, 2010 at 11:13 am

Suzanne – I know it sounds confusing…how else do I say it? I’m okay with 115 lb…but I want less of it to be fat and more of it to be lean. If I eat less, will that happen? I think I will just weigh a bit less but still be flabby! aarrgghhh! No wonder I can’t get help – nobody knows what I mean! So I do resistance and sprinting, and I don’t lose weight, I should increase LBM, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. Maybe I need heavier weights?

Kieran April 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Hi Rusty – interesting! I’m shortish (5′ 7 male) and I used to run a lot and found it trimmed me down. I don’t mean intervals, just regular 45 minute runs 3-4 times a week. Then I read Craig Ballantyne’s info about bodyweight cardio and decided to switch to that. Then I found that I bulked up! I don’t mean bodybuilder type bulking: just more ‘puffed’ than I wanted to be. Any advice for ‘shorter’ guys who want a happy medium? I want a toned look – but I don’t want to ignore resistance training, either.

Charles April 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Hey Rusty, I finally get to make my first comment lol. I`m 5′ 10″, 162 lbs, but I really don`t consider myself “short”. I naturally have a longer, leaner body and I actually was a “hardgainer” until recently. I guess I am naturally stronger than taller guys though so it makes sense. I think it`s probably a combo of height and body composition.

Mayhem April 16, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Rusty, is there any exercises or anything to help me get my shoulders broader/wider i know its abit off topic but thats my biggest problem in getting the hollywood look cos i have verry narrow shoulders.Any help is appreciated!

Jonathan April 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Hey Rusty I am a short person and any weight training makes me look really stocky and stockiness makes me look even shorter (even when lean). Cardio is really the only thing i tend to do because of this. I miss weight training though. What are your views/advice on weight training for short people who bulk up very easily?

jesse April 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I’d love to know how to gain a lot of muscle, but still keep that angular look. I HATE looking puffy. A couple of images come to mind, including two of my favorite animations dragonballz and superman.
All achieve the angular look, dbz looking a too angular lol, and superman could use bigger legs and bigger traps. Of course, their looks are probably impossible to achieve but that’s my goal. So my question is would you know how to gain a lot of muscle mass (say 190 6-8% bf at 5’10) but still achieve that angular look? thank you so much for any tips.

Casey April 17, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Hi Rusty, I just want to tell you how much I really enjoy your website. I have learned so much reading through your posts, and have radically changed the way I eat and exercise in the last month with the new knowledge I have gotten from this website. I’ve lost about 10 lbs so far but more importantly, I FEEL so much better. Even without the weight loss it has been totally worth it just for that. I’m so glad that I found this website (from I believe). Thank you for giving us all of this incredible information!

Ryan April 23, 2010 at 12:47 am

Rusty you said “Adding muscle contributes very little to calories burned (even less than I used to believe). Think along the lines of 6 calories per pound of muscle each day”

I totally believe that. I’ve been heavy most of my life. For years I was caught up in the mantra of the ironheads. “Just add muscle and it will up your metabolism to maintain itself and you’ll burn all that excess fat. Stay away from cardio, just add muscle”. BullSh!t. I never lost weight until I did cardio. There are a whole host of fat burning enzymes that increase when you do cardio that you don’t get from just lifting and as you say muscle is very efficient and doesn’t need many calories.

Why does this myth of muscle being the end all be all to losing weight still exist? Is it just perpetuated by 300 lb powerlifters that hate cardio?

Robert C. Morreale April 26, 2010 at 10:10 am

Hi Sue G,

at 115 lbs a 5% bf reduction (25% bf to 20% bf) is 5.75 lbs of stored energy (fat). i know exactly what you mean, adding muscle is not easy. You can add more muscle but that will not address the flab issue. you need to bite the bullet and shed more weight which is harder when you are that close to your goal. when i say weight i mean fat. we all want to hold onto our muscle (lean mass). as we age our ability to add muscle goes down (hormones). you can create a favorable anabolic environment to maximize your muscle building capability by controlling blood glucose, getting solid sleep, resistance training and certain amino acids. fat and muscle are different tissue and they require different strategies.

Robert C. Morreale April 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

Hi Sue G,

to increase muscle mass you will need progressive overload. lifting dumbbells that fit on a key chain just won’t cut it. i never lift more than 5 reps and when going heavy 2 – 3 reps. if you are lifting more than 3 reps your are not recruiting enough muscle fiber. when you recruit 80% of all your muscle to do a curl you know you’re putting in the right amount of effort.

Allison May 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Wow, I didn’t know a lot of that stuff! I always assumed muscle burned a ton more calories. Here’s an interesting article on 6 ways to keep you metabolism going that has helped me!
6 Ways to Burn More Calories: Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Metabolism Going

Joel May 6, 2010 at 11:22 am

Hi guys,

New to the site, loving reading the posts and the feedback!

Wanted to comment on the height post here, as I’ve been a lumbering giant for a good portion of my life. (25 now, have been 6’3 since I was 17 or so.)

I definitely think that the height has something to do with strength in certain lifts, and the way that muscle gains look on a taller person compared to a shorter one. That latter has been a obsticle for me for years now. Being so tall, and having a ridiculously high metabolism, i’ve never been able to gain muscle and, consistently keep it. (The heaviest i’ve ever weighed was 172lbs, and I would say that majority of that was fat and not muscle anyways).

Rusty, or anyone else for that matter, do you have any suggestions for me to stick to so I can continue to gain muscle (I want to get to the 175-185 range) while staying lean? Just don’t want to turn into that ‘skinny fat’ guy!


Jordan May 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Hi Rusty,

I was wondering how models and actresses seem to have boobs, butts, and be skinny at the same time. Is it a height thing with taller women being able to be skinny with assets? It seems like for most women, when they get really fit, they lose the majority of their breast size. As a short female, I am afraid of working out to much because I don’t want to look like a little girl. Would intense cardio take a lot of the breast or does it depend on the person?

BTW, I absolutely love your site and I come here everyday to look at the articles!


bob May 21, 2010 at 3:33 pm

As a certified personal trainer I want to say no cardio at all(except some mild walking),and only 2 strength training sessions a week.Trust me I am 5’5” and I weigh 170lbs.

Raymond May 26, 2010 at 6:12 am

I used to be tall but all the military presses made me short!LOL.. I have to get my head around what you are saying it goes against what I have always been told… but thats the good thing about this site it doesn’t have to go with the rest of the flock. All I can say at the end of the day doesn’t matter your genetics you can make it happen!

AuntieEvil August 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

Jordan – I’m 5’2; I started at 185, in a 38DDD. I’m now 125, in a 34B. How do the actresses do it? Plastic surgery. Nothing you see on a screen is likely to be naturally real – TV or movie. Some is, I’ll give props, but not much. Google for ‘natural bodybuilding’ and look at images, you’ll see the difference.

That said, my husband is 6’2, now almost 185 – up from 165. Doing back/legs together the other day, we discovered that I can actually squat more than he, Roman lift too, and I can do more dips and pull-ups with less weight off-set. He’s tall, lean, and can eat whatever he bloody well likes. I eat a burger and feel bloated for 3 days. Genetics are a real kick in the teeth sometimes! Both Ways!

Once I read something like, “Ladies: never be afraid to work out because you’re scared of what others will think if they see you toned & lean. That’s like being afraid to read in public because you’re scared people will think you’re a nerd. If you’d rather be fat & illiterate, go ahead with it. Me – I don’t care what those people think!”

Azri Miskal September 11, 2010 at 3:29 am

However, don’t many people talk about how muscles help to burn fat? If you are suggesting that, then it means that what many people believe is now supposedly a myth..

Michael October 2, 2010 at 9:30 pm

As a shorter guy what would you recommend i focus on the most to get that hollywood lean look. I dont care about being the strongest guy, i just want to look good in my clothes and shirtless and advoid that “short stocky” look at all costs. I’m new to gym so you help would be appreciated. I’m 5’5 and between 137- 141 lbs.

Adam December 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Im 5 9 1/2 and in my opinon thats not what I would call “short”, But just to let you know Im 133 lbs and skinny, Ive seen guys 6 ft and up more buff looking then me, so I think it has to do more with genetics then height

Joe March 18, 2011 at 11:57 am

Well i have just read through just about every comment on here and first i want to say i love how every day i realize how short i really am. Growing up i knew i was short but i always thought like say 5’7 or 5’8 would be average in the last year or so i realized how wrong i was. Anyways i am 5’4″ and i think i am the shortest guy to post on here yet. Enouph of my long rant i acutally seem to have a hard time bulking up maybe i just havnt worked out long enogh and maybe im too concerned with certain parts (my chest is scrawny) any how just thought it was funny seeing people say im 5’11” and im so short. haha you have no clue what short is….all that said i am content with the way i look well excetp sometimes cuz my wife is half in taller than me and it bothers her wich in turn bothers me.

Arthur April 10, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Alright I’m here to help with some conclusions. Firstly I wanted to clear up some mechanics. Short leaver = harder work and weaker lifts, muscle insertion point is what you need to think about. So conclusion 1 is that a shorter limb isn’t what makes shorter people lift more. Now let’s look at insertion points. A shorter person has larger joint area in ratio to a taller bloke which leads me to believe that the insertion point is much further out on a short human, which makes our lifts easier. This isn’t the only end to the conclusion as we also have to look at muscle recruitment and muscle contraction length. From studying the human body I believe that contraction length means no different but what does is the muscle built around the joints. As mentioned above, it is easier for a short guy to put on muscle, so in concluding id say that ether tall or short the more bulk around the joint is what makes lifts easier. Example brock leasner vs short power lifter. Brock is 6″3′ and just as quick and strong as 5″7′ power lifter. The end 🙂

Zac April 20, 2011 at 12:40 am

One thing I’ve noticed regarding height is what ones height consists of, long legs short torso vs a lengthy torso and shorter legs can make a difference in a persons composition and appearance. For example a longer torso with a low body fat % can get that eight pack appearance in their abdominal area while a person with a shorter torso will normally only achieve a six or four pack look. This is also relevant in lifts for example long legs and a short torso, shorter arms, will make lifts such as the deadlift more challenging. In the end it’s important to realize your genetic make up to help identify your strengths and weaknesses but not dwell on anything we find dissapointing.

the boy October 5, 2011 at 7:16 am

Bit late commenting on this but this is a quality article and makes so very good points. One more thing about height is how it relates to body mass – why is it that guys who train seem to be obsessed with being ‘200lbs’…. without considering height…. 200lbs without context means nothing.

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