A typical question that gets asked is whether or not muscle burns more calories than fat. Does muscle actually burn fat and increase metabolism?
Many fitness programs claim that building muscle will help you significantly burn fat at a faster rate. I’m sure you’ve heard it countless times.
The truth is, while muscle does burn calories, the degree to which it does is heavily exaggerated and over-hyped.
Does Muscle Burn Fat?
The logic behind it goes along the lines of this. Your body’s natural metabolism burns more calories to maintain muscle than fat. Thus, the more muscle you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate and the more calories you’ll burn at rest.
And by building muscle, you’ll boost your metabolism and change yourself into a fat burning furnace… and this will help you blast through any fat loss plateau.
So, how much of this is fact? Theoretically, it’s true. For example:
- The human body burns more calories in order to maintain muscle compared to maintaining fat.
- Yes, having more muscle means naturally burning more calories every day.
- Muscle does increase your basal metabolic rate.
- So yes, increasing your muscle mass has the potential to help you burn more fat.
Still following? Great, because this is where the perception of this gets a little skewed.
The problem with this thought-process isn’t so much that it’s false, but rather that it’s completely over-hyped and insignificant in terms of the actual number of calories that muscle will burn and hence, the overall effect of building muscle on burning fat.
Does Muscle Burn More Calories Than Fat?
To reach the bottom of this issue, we need to find out the amount of calories muscle really burns per day.
Based on various sources of information, you may hear that 1 pound of muscle can burn anywhere from 25 to even 100 or more calories daily.
If 1 pound of muscle could burn 100 or more calories per day, then building an additional 3 pounds of muscle could burn up to 300 extra calories daily and thus “sky rocket your metabolism.”
Here’s the truth: Muscle burns nowhere near that amount of calories. In fact, based on data I’ve compiled from various sources, the actual number is closer to this:
1 pound of muscle burns roughly 5-6 calories per day at rest
Wait a second… only an additional 5 to 6 calories?
Going back to our example, this means that gaining an additional 3 pounds of muscle would burn an extra 15-18 calories daily. And gaining an extra 10 pounds of muscle would only burn an additional 50-60 calories per day. That’s the amount of calories you’d gain back from eating half of an apple!
Realistically speaking, you’d have to gain the maximum amount of muscle that your body is capable of building in a lifetime to see a remotely significant increase in your metabolism. For men, that maximum amount is approximately 40-50 pounds of muscle. And for women, that’s approximately 20-25 pounds of muscle.
1 pound of fat burns an additional 2 calories per day at rest. So technically, muscle does burn more calories than fat.
So in the end, losing 5 pounds of fat and gaining 5 pounds of muscle will only increase your metabolism by a whopping 15-20 calories daily.
Is this number significant to you? I’ll let you decide.
The Bottom Line
Though I would always suggest resistance training when trying to lose weight (due to its special ability to help you lose fat while maintaining muscle), the idea that building muscle is an essential component to losing fat is bullshit that is created for the following reasons:
- Gym rats use it as a form of broscience to fuel their false sense of knowledge
- Marketers use it as a form of hype to make their products sound more enticing
- Ignorant fitness gurus use it in their fat loss articles after having stolen it from an equally clueless person
So does muscle burn fat? From a trivial stand point… yes. And although it contributes to a small degree, it’s unlikely that the additional muscle you build alone will create the caloric deficit that is required for fat loss.
Rather than focusing on your metabolism, you’ll obtain better results by creating a caloric deficit by eating less and increasing your physical activity. Doing this will produce the fat burning effect you’re after.