I wrote about muscle and metabolic rate in a post about a year ago, but this myth is so prevalent that I had to address it again. If you don’t know what I’m referring to it is the idea that it is smart to gain muscle, because “muscle burns calories around the clock…helping you lose fat”. You know you have heard this mantra from a personal trainer before! It is so common that I listen for it now and just smile when I hear it. I am going to have some fun with this post. I love “shaking things up”!
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Did You Know that Body Fat Increases Your Metabolic Rate?
Seriously…one pound of fat burns an additional 2 calories per pound per day. So if you gained 10 pounds of fat, you will burn another 20 calories per day. Obviously if fat loss is the goal, you wouldn’t want to gain more fat to increase your metabolic rate. I just wanted to throw this out there to let you know that things aren’t always as simple as they seem.
How Many Calories Are Burned Per Day Per Pound of Muscle?
Muscle burns an additional 6 calories per day. I actually quoted 12 calories per day in my earlier post, but with further research it looks like 6 is the more accurate number. People don’t agree on the exact number, but 6 looks like a good average. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has it close to 5 and I’ve seen other studies where it is a bit higher. Bottom line…muscle doesn’t increase your metabolism THAT much.
Let’s Put This Into Perspective
If someone loses 20 pounds of fat, they will burn 40 LESS calories per day. A 10 pound muscle gain would burn 60 calories per day. A person who had this type of body composition change would burn a grand total of 20 more calories per day! If that same person lost 20 pounds of fat and gained 20 pounds of muscle, they would only increase their daily calories burned by 80 total calories! Not exciting at all!
How Many Calories Burned to Lose a Pound of Fat?
It takes 3,500 calories burned to lose a pound of fat. An extra 20 calories per day isn’t going to make a dent in your body composition. It isn’t even significant! All of that time devoted to gaining muscle could be put towards cardio and the results would blow the “muscle gain” approach out of the water.
Cardio and Calorie Deficit is a Direct Route to Fat Loss
You can easily burn 600 calories doing hard cardio. Since you aren’t trying to build muscle, you can also reduce your daily calories 600 under maintenance level and hold on to the muscle while losing weight. So this cardio and diet combination can burn an additional 1,200 calories per day (I realize that this is vastly simplified…I just didn’t want to make this post too technical). This is 60 times as many calories burned compared to the body composition example listed above cause by gaining muscle.
I Realize That Cardio and Diet Aren’t Exactly 60 Times Better
Obviously I didn’t take into account the calories burned doing extra lifting and all the other variables. The main point I wanted to make is that gaining muscle to burn body fat is not the quickest way to getting a defined body. If you want to burn fat, focus on burning the calories directly (hint: cardio). Just because it sounds cool to say…”gaining muscle helps increase your metabolism and burns more calories around the clock”…doesn’t mean it is an effective strategy.
High Insulin Levels Stop Fat Loss and Cause Weight Gain – It is impossible to have high levels of insulin in your system while burning fat at the same time. Think about that. If you eat a meal that has too high of a Glycemic Index, your blood sugar will spike, causing a large release in …
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