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.

It is true that muscle burns fuel at rest. However, the amount of calories that 1 lb of muscle burns is pretty low: for each pound of muscle gained, you’ll burn about 6-10 calories.1 2

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.

If you want to lose weight, check out these 101 proven tips to help you lose weight fast.

Show 4 References

  1. Available at: 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Available at: Accessed March 22, 2013
  4. 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.


  1. profile avatar
    Charlie Apr 18, 2013 - 12:37 #

    I love this. I sooner or later I have to tell every guy that comes to me with questions about muscle-building for fat-loss, that there’s no substitute for DOING SOMETHING! Thanks for this article, now I have some numbers to back me up.

  2. profile avatar
    Christian Finn Apr 20, 2013 - 07:26 #

    The data presented in the Wang study is in calories per kilogram of bodyweight, rather than per pound. So you’re looking at a figure nearer 6 calories per pound of skeletal muscle rather than 13.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Apr 20, 2013 - 12:40 #

      @Christian – Thanks a lot for the comment. I just made the range 6-10 as opposed to 7 to 13. Our technical editor John recommended to put it as a range to be conservative because the exact number is not known. If you have any other insights to share, please do. Keep up the good work with your site!

  3. profile avatar
    Christian Finn Apr 22, 2013 - 14:38 #

    Ditto Marc! Been following Built Lean for a few years now, really impressed with what you’ve done.

  4. profile avatar
    Christian Finn Apr 22, 2013 - 14:55 #

    The only other thing that comes to mind is that the estimates of the metabolic rate of muscle assume a constant rate of protein turnover.

    And if someone is lifting weights several times a week, there’s going to be an increase in protein turnover in the muscles they’ve been training.

    So while the metabolic rate of “resting” muscle isn’t as all that high, the metabolic rate of “recovering” muscle means that people with more muscle mass can expect to burn more calories in the post-exercise period.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Apr 22, 2013 - 18:45 #

      @Christian Finn – Wow, that’s a really interesting insight. Thanks for sharing!

  5. profile avatar
    James May 10, 2013 - 12:46 #

    So in figuring my calories for the day, the amount of lean body mass will have a large effect, that is if I am understanding this article properly. Two people at the same body weight with different bf% would need two different calorie levels to achieve weght loss. Could you tell me if this is correct.

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