A common misconception is that for every pound of muscle added, you can expect to burn an extra 50 calories a day…even while you’re not exercising. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking.
So, even on the high end of the estimation, an extra 10 pounds of muscle would only burn an extra 100 calories a day – a pretty big difference compared to the 500 calories you’d be burning according to the common myth. In essence, adding 10 pounds of muscle to your frame would only allow you to eat a little less than a double-stuffed Oreo and burn it off without exercise.
If Muscle Doesn’t Burn Calories, What Does?
Your body burns fuel at rest. The number of calories your body burns at rest is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR is basically the amount of calories you would need to maintain your bodyweight if you did not move all day. Organs determine a significant portion of your RMR: noteworthy ones are the heart, brain, and kidneys, which each require a significant amount of calories in order to function. Ironically, even body fat requires energy to maintain itself (about 2-4 calories per lbs of body fat).3 4
RMR determines a large part of how many calories you should eat daily, but making a large change in your RMR is out of your control, since it’s based on fixed & slow-changing variables such as age, gender, and lean body mass. As previously discussed, since adding muscle does not significantly increase your ability to burn calories at rest, the best way to increase your caloric burn is: movement.
For more on calorie burn, check out this BuiltLean article on How to Calculate Calorie Burn.
For Muscle To Burn Calories, Focus On What You Can Control
The best way to ensure your muscles are burning calories is to use them. The 10 pounds of muscle just sitting on your body may not burn that much, but the workouts you do in order to add that muscle means that you’re burning off calories. In terms of fat loss, strength training is the best way to add lean muscle and burn calories, because it ensures that you don’t lose your muscle mass while you exercise & diet.
A good way to make certain you are building or retaining muscle while trying to change your body through diet and exercise is to make realistic goals. Losing about one pound a week, eating a diet high in protein, and trying to maintain strength will ensure you are losing body fat to help you transform your body.
- Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/fitnessqanda/fitnessqanda_display.aspx?itemid=358. Accessed March 22, 2013. In this article, ACE Chief Science author quotes 7-10 calories burned per pound of muscle. The article references a book he wrote in 2006. ↩
- Wang Z, Ying Z, Bosy-westphal A, et al. Evaluation of specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues: comparison between men and women. Am J Hum Biol. 2011;23(3):333-8. This more recent study in 2011 study concluded one pound of muscle burns roughly 6 calories. ↩
- Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/fitnessqanda/fitnessqanda_display.aspx?itemid=358. Accessed March 22, 2013 ↩
- Wang Z, Ying Z, Bosy-westphal A, et al. Evaluation of specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues: comparison between men and women. Am J Hum Biol. 2011;23(3):333-8. ↩