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.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

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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