How Many Calories does Muscle Really Burn? Not as Many as You Think...

20SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
3/18/2009 6:30 AM   :  128 comments

Do you strength train? No?! Well, you know, muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, so you should build more muscle to boost your metabolism and help you lose weight.

How many times have you heard (or said) something similar yourself? I've heard it (and even said it) hundreds of times myself, mainly because that little fact can motivate people to start (and stick with) strength training—especially women who fear "bulking up" or cardio bunnies who only exercise to burn as many calories as possible. Raise your hand if YOU want to burn more calories while at rest. (I'm right there with you.)

Well, exactly how many calories does that newly sculpted muscle really burn? Not as much as you'd think, according to an article written by fitness expert, Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, the Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The common stat experts and laypeople alike tend to cite is that a single pound of muscle can burn 30-50 calories per day—so the more muscle you build, the more calories your body will burn all day long. But Dr. Bryant writes that research indicates otherwise. According to an article he wrote for the ACE FitnessMatters newsletter:

"[M]uscle tissue has been observed to burn roughly seven to 10 calories per pound per day, compared to two to three calories per pound per day for fat. Therefore, if you replace a pound of fat with a pound of muscle, you can expect to burn only approximately four to six more calories a day. Given the fact that the average person who strength trains typically gains approximately 3 to 5 pounds of muscle mass over a period of three to four months, the net caloric effect of such a training regimen is very modest—only 15 to 30 calories per day (the equivalent of a few potato chips)."


Hmm...that doesn't sound too motivating. But then again, every little bit helps, right? If you were to decide to either burn 15-30 more calories per day or NOT, wouldn't you still choose to burn it? I would. Over time, it adds up. That's 450-900 more calories burned per month, or 5,400-10,800 more calories burned in a year—that's about a 3-pound weight loss, simply by building and preserving your muscle mass. That sounds pretty good to me!

But remember, strength training offers your body many more benefits than just increased calorie burn! If you're cutting calories to lose weight, it will help reduce the amount of muscle you lose in the process, which could be significant. Plus it helps you improve your appearance, remain strong and independent, decrease joint pain, strengthen your bones and improve your athletic performance. Those all sound like valuable reasons to keep lifting weights to me.

To read Dr. Cedric X. Bryant's full article, click here.

Are you surprised by the modest calorie-burn of muscles? Will you keep (or start) strength training anyway?


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Comments

  • 128
    This article also doesn't mention the fact that the more muscle that you have, the faster your metabolism! As you age, you metabolism naturally slows down, which is another reason that woman should add strenth training! Also, I don't remember if the article mentions, but it also strenthens your bones! Something EVERY woman should be concerned with! - 9/26/2011   2:40:28 PM
  • 127
    I think there's too much focus on the number of calories any exercise burns and not enough on what it accomplishes in terms of fitness. In the end, it's all relative anyway. The less you weigh, the less you burn. According to my Nike+ Sport Kit, after a forty-minute run, I burn a rather disappointing 300 calories. The meal I consume afterwards will be at least that much! Losing weight and achieving fitness go hand-in-hand with a balanced and portion-controlled nutrition plan, strength training and cardio. The older you are, especially if you are a woman, the more important muscle-building becomes! - 9/24/2011   1:35:29 PM
  • 126
    All I know is that when I strength train AND do cardio I lose weight even though I average 1600 calories a day. When I take strength training out of the occasion I struggle to lose at 1400 calories a day. If I stop strength training and cardio both, I don't lose weight even if I limit myself to 1200 calories a day. I don't care that much what causes that, I care that I'm losing weight, and looking toned. Even according to this article, muscle is still burning between 3.33 to 5 times as many calories as fat does, that sounds good to me. - 9/22/2011   7:46:00 AM
  • BALDRICK3
    125
    You know I'm getting a little tired of seeing these particular studies bandied around the internet saying that 3 pounds of 'new' muscle burn 120 extra calories a day. People, the studies do not say that. Nowhere in the study report does it attribute the 120 calorie daily increase to the muscle. Its attributed to the training program.

    QUOTE: 'the same strength-training program that increased lean (muscle) weight by about 3 pounds, likewise increased resting metabolic rate by about 7%. '

    Put simply. If doing 'X' results in effects 'Y' and 'Z', this doesnt mean'Y' is caused by 'Z' just that both may be caused by 'X'.

    Have fun, enjoy your training and be very wary of selective analysis from people who may be pursuing their own agendas.
    - 7/16/2011   7:26:37 PM
  • JINZ000
    124
    This article is False and outdated!!!

    There is new research that now proves that a pound of "new" muscle will burn on average 35 calories. We are not talking about skeleton muscles, we are talking about new muscle that you've developed by working out. Skeleton muscles on the other hand only burns on average 5.7 calories per lb of muscle.

    Here is the research
    Although Bouchard's mathematical calculations seem to make sense, they definitely do not line up with the classic research studies on this topic. Two well-conceived and well-conducted research studies examined the effects of strength training on muscle development and resting metabolic rate.

    One study was conducted by Campbell and his research associates at Tufts University1,and the other study was conducted by Pratley and his research associates at the University of Maryland5.

    At Tufts University, the subjects performed progressive resistance exercise three days a week for 12 weeks. Each training session consisted of four standard strength exercises, each of which was performed for three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

    After three months of training, the subjects, on average, added 3.1 pounds of lean (muscle) weight and lost 4.0 pounds of fat weight. As a result, their resting metabolic rate increased by 6.8 %, or approximately 105 calories per day. At face value, this finding would indicate that 1 pound of muscle uses about 35 calories per day at rest (105 calories per day ÷ 3 pounds of muscle = 35 calories per day per pound of muscle).

    At the University of Maryland, the subjects performed progressive resistance exercise three days a week for 16 weeks. Each training session consisted of 14 standard strength exercises, most of which were performed for one set of 10 to 15 repetitions.

    After four months of training, the subjects, on average, added 3.5 pounds of lean (muscle) weight and lost 4.2 pounds of fat weight. As a result, their resting metabolic rate increased by 7.7%, or approximately 120 calories per day. At face value, this finding would indicate that 1 pound of muscle uses about 34 calories per day at rest (120 calories per day ÷ 3.5 pounds of muscle = 34 calories per day per pound of muscle).

    It is interesting to note that, in both of these studies, the same strength-training program that increased lean (muscle) weight by about 3 pounds, likewise increased resting metabolic rate by about 7%.

    It is also interesting to note that, in both of these studies, the strength-training programs responsible for these impressive results were relatively basic and brief. The Tufts University subjects performed just 12 sets of exercise per session (three sets of four exercises), and the University of Maryland subjects completed 17 sets of exercise per session (one set of 11 exercises and two sets of three exercises).

    These represent essentially 30-minute workouts that are manageable both time-wise and energy-wise for most adults. It is nothing short of remarkable that such modest investments in strength exercise can produce such profound physical outcomes.

    The bottom line: Actively trained muscles burns almost 6 times more calories than untrained muscles. - 3/24/2011   9:19:57 PM
  • 123
    Yes, the news IS discouraging to me. But it does not mean I'll quit strength training. I certainly like being Shaped better, plus I've think I've FINALLY it through my thick head, that alot of my aches & pains are from WEAK MUSCLES. ahem.
    Jenn - 10/25/2010   4:49:24 PM
  • 122
    Well... overall fitness is more important than how many calories you burn when you're sitting on your butt. And if you don't have muscle, it makes it a lot harder to power through cardio trying to burn calories. I don't think I really care either way - muscle looks a heck of a lot better than fat. And I want to bounce quarters off my butt someday - can't do that without working on strengthening the glutes! - 8/10/2010   9:54:53 PM
  • 121
    I post this once in awhile to remind myself why strength training is important:

    http://photos-ak.sparkpeople.com/nw
    /6/4/l648956394.jpg


    A pound of muscle vs a pound of fat,
    If I had 210 pounds of muscle, I would look pretty skinny. - 8/10/2010   9:59:11 AM
  • 120
    I post this once in awhile to remind myself why strength training is important:

    http://photos-ak.sparkpeople.com/nw
    /6/4/l648956394.jpg


    A pound of muscle vs a pound of fat,
    If I had 210 pounds of muscle, I would look pretty skinny. - 8/10/2010   9:59:11 AM
  • 119
    I'm still new with strength training, so I'll continue to test the theory :D - 3/4/2010   6:25:17 AM
  • 118
    I will still strength train ,because it makes me feel better. - 3/3/2010   2:49:57 PM
  • 117
    Love the kettle bell workout! - 3/2/2010   3:13:21 PM
  • 116
    Love to ST and love having a defining shape to my arms and legs. Would never give it up... - 9/27/2009   8:42:10 AM
  • 115
    Will not stop ST bcoz I see definition in my body esp my shoulders & legs now even tho I weigh nearly the same! - 9/17/2009   2:21:59 AM
  • MOUNTAINEERBB
    114
    I just recently (last 5 weeks) added in strength training with the total gym 3 or 4 days a week with cardio on alternating days. I am still losing weight at the same rate as before. The big difference is with the strenght training added i wear a size smaller than i did at this weight before, and i am shaped better and people are commenting alot more on the weight loss than before. i will never quit the strength training, it makes a huge difference in the way i look, feel, and how well i perform everything i do. - 5/5/2009   7:01:32 PM
  • 113
    Burning more calories is just an added benefit. Muscle makes it easier to do things (like take the stairs after a long day), and it also helps to protect your bones and organs. Don't forget about how having toned muscles looks! Building muscle can help increase the appearance of your chest (if you want that), raise your butt to where it should be, and who doesn't want sexy calves? - 4/10/2009   6:56:58 PM
  • 112
    Well, even if muscle doesn't burn up as many calories as we've all be led to believe, Nichol makes an excellent point when she states that: "If you're cutting calories to lose weight, it will help reduce the amount of muscle you lose in the process." - - - - that will protect your heart and other vital organs!

    Sounds like a good reason to me to continue to build up some muscle. - 3/27/2009   3:43:26 PM
  • HOLIMC2Y
    111
    This is discouraging a little, but I know that strength training has toned my body. I just wish there could be some little break in the system...it just seems too hard! - 3/27/2009   9:27:45 AM
  • THECARDIOQUEEN
    110
    This information is a bit disappointing but I we all know that there is no magic bullet to weightloss and maintenance. I want to be strong with defined muscle so I will continue to strength train 3 times per week. - 3/24/2009   9:08:00 AM
  • 109
    I do some weight training between my cardio days it helps to get my weight down. Also tones some of my areas that need it. I feel stronger from working on weights. I vary from the machines at the YMCA to the free weights. - 3/22/2009   9:55:50 AM
  • 108
    Great information. - 3/22/2009   4:59:07 AM
  • 107
    I would, regardless how many calories are burned. I want to get rid of my flabby tummy and arms. - 3/22/2009   2:10:19 AM
  • 106
    I love, love strength training...much more because of the definition I am forming and not because of the extra calories I'm burning, although that is a nice bonus:) - 3/21/2009   4:27:45 PM
  • 105
    So the claim that Chalean Extreme boosts your metabolism by up to 500 calories a day cannot be true! I suspected as much as I have not lost and I am nearly done. - 3/21/2009   3:47:04 PM
  • SDDIETER
    104
    I was always suspicious of the amount of calories burned from strength training. It makes no difference to me. I will never stop strength training . I do boht strenght and cardio. Strength training mkaes me feel powerful after a workout. Good muscle tone helps maintain posture and balance. Cardio is great for yur heart and lungs. Anyhow the bottom line for weight loss is calories in and calories out. Too each his own. - 3/21/2009   2:06:09 PM
  • 103
    I wonder more about the difference in repetitive motion of cardio / aerobics compared to lifting weights. I mean when one is 200 pounds plus, and they do aerobic training, or jogging, or some form of exercise where their heart rate is above the cardio range...doesnt that repetitive motion of lifting their own excess weight count as ST to fatiuge and burn muscles enough for them to build more? Strength Training does it faster yeah...but without the heart and whole system advantage. I would think the benefits of exercise in general help reduce the amount of muscle you lose in the calorie restriction process, which could be significant from just dieting alone or lower HR fat burning zone.
    EXERCISE helps you improve your appearance, remain strong and independent, decrease joint pain, strengthen your bones and improve your athletic performance...as ST or aerobic or cardio does too. But so many list it out as if aerobic or high impact cardio doesnt...well it DOES as well.
    I was considered a "cardio bunny" who only exercised to burn as many calories as possible and very resistant to ST because its a BORING burn and seeing improvement depends on tracking and recording what was done before, on each machine or form. Its so much easier and more immediate to track distance in time with something that gets the whole body at once and add on to it gradually. Cardio is less resistance to me than lifting weights so Im way more apt to enjoy it and do it again and again.
    I GAINED weight doing 90 minutes of above 80% max 4 or more times a week. I KNOW I didnt gain FAT...and I didnt lift weights.
    So whats the difference? Some of the ST exercises Personal Trainers have had me do, the rate of speed and my HR doing it...Its the same but with extra weights and a limit to repitition rather than duration of time.
    I was told I was over training and thats why I gained and halted my weight loss. I had to go back to doing HR under 130 to loose again. I am now doing ST to rebuild the burt off muscle cells cause Im not building them up anymore with my more intensive routines.
    So my question is what is the difference. For those who HATE Strength Training...cant they do a higher or more intensive cardio beyond the cardio range and accomplish the same? - 3/21/2009   1:04:05 AM
  • 102
    However many calories you burn or don't burn in the course of a day, it's important to look at the big picture. I am 64 years old and I have been going to the gym to lift weights pretty regularly (2-3 X/week) and/or getting exercise of some sort almost every day--since 1986. I carefully watch my diet but still weigh more than I should, according to the charts. But I have no physical ailments, no heart problems or signs of diabetes. I scored above average on a recent bone density test. My blood pressure and cholesterol are where they should be. I have always had a lot of energy. My arthritis is minimal and does not bother me at all. When I look around and see the poor health condition of many people my age, I just wonder if exercise could have helped them. Not all of them, of course. That's being unrealistic. But I'll bet that most people's health would be greatly improved if they took the time to exercise, including weight lifting, every day. - 3/20/2009   11:08:10 PM
  • 101
    Hey, the point is? Muscle continues to 'burn calories' even at rest, as in sitting, sleeping & doing nothing when your done & the added benefits to posture & over-all well-being as we age? You'll be grateful for later in Life. And anything that does calories in while I'm doing nothing? Is A OK with me!! - 3/20/2009   4:12:07 PM
  • 100
    Maybe the average person gains only about 3-5 lbs of muscle, but I have gained 15 lbs of muscle in the past year, and lost 30 lbs of fat, primarily by strength training. So if the difference is ~5 calories per lb per day, that's 45 calories per day for me. And besides that I have loads more energy, feel better ALL the time, sleep better, my relatives say that my voice even sounds better/more energetic. :) Forget average. If I were "average" I wouldn't have this much weight to lose. I did cardio for a year and lost almost nothing. Strength training has definitely been the ticket for me to gain momentum in my weight loss efforts, I recommend it for everyone. - 3/20/2009   3:28:25 PM
  • 99
    Being a strength training bigot, I just roll my eyes at this article. I was a distance runner for a few years. I never achieved the aerobic endurance to do a full marathon but I did run half-marathons and ran 7+ miles several days a week. I lost weight and generally I was more fit but those runs often exhausted me and had my share of joint injuries.

    For the last year or so I've switched my emphasis to pretty hardcore weight training. The fat is coming off quicker, I am tremendously stronger and my pulse rate is 52. I also look a lot better with my shirt off than I did as a runner.

    Do I care what a pound of muscle burns while I'm asleep? Not really. Movement, both aerobic and anaerobic, is what my body was designed for. Rest time is just the time for recuperation from the last time I moved.

    If I thought it mattered most that both more fat and more muscle burned more calories, I'd focus on just getting bigger so I guess I could brag that I burn more calories doing nothing than that skinnier guy over there. But my goal is to get more fit, stronger, healthier, with more energy, fewer injuries... It has nothing to do with resting metabolism or any other abstract concept like that. - 3/20/2009   2:19:30 PM
  • 98
    My coach (I do personal training and she is also a Reg Dietician) always said the correlation between strength training and increasing metabolic rates were not proven for women. I did have 2 rmr's done (4 years apart) and my rmr increase by 140 calories. That is not a whole lot in the scheme of things BUT it does give a bit of diet latitude for someone whose RMR was near the minimum suggested calories per day. It also makes me feel better and more shapely. - 3/20/2009   2:08:02 PM
  • 97
    I'm glad to see this myth busted, as I regularly read posts that say that we don't need to do cardio at all because if we strength train we'll build muscle and that will burn more calories than the cardio would. Yeah, didn't sound logical to me either, but there are people who believe those posts. I'm in it for the muscle definition and to stay strong as I get older! - 3/20/2009   11:22:38 AM
  • 96
    I have a problem with both positions. What seems most plausible to me is that USING muscle mass is what burns calories, not simply having it. And we use our muscles, whenever we move, whether that is strength training or cardio or just routine activity. The second problem is the inference that the average person (i.e. non-body builder/full time athlete) can gain 3-5 pounds of muscle in 3-4 months. I have been strength training for over 2 years and have not gained any muscle mass. Understand, I am not knocking strength training in any way, I'm all for it, but not to gain muscle mass or to lose fat or weight. I am way stronger than I use to be, have way more muscle endurance and less joint problems than I use to. I believe strength training is important for everyone, regardless of age, gender, or weight, but it's benefits have nothing to do with losing weight, burning calories, or gaining muscles mass. - 3/20/2009   10:08:06 AM
  • 95
    Yes, I will continue to do strength training. I didn't realize until I started working my legs how weak I was. My father-in-law lived to be 90 and he lost the strength in his legs the last year of his life, which was so sad because he was an active, lively, independent person up till then. I figure if I have a choice, I choose to be able to carry myself around until the day I die. Because I know that takes strength in the legs, core and upper body, I'm committed for the rest of my life. Besides, can't properly do cardio if you don't have the strength. - 3/20/2009   9:46:55 AM
  • 94
    I don't really care about the calories burned. I want to like what I see in the mirror, I want my body to look toned and strong. The other benefits are well worth continuing to strength train. - 3/20/2009   12:32:47 AM
  • 93
    I like my strength training. I am more toned and I like my muscle definition. I believe it makes a big difference in my overall appearance. - 3/19/2009   10:55:57 PM
  • 92
    I really do hate ST, but I'm trying to get use to it 2x's a week. When i ST, I get bigger and the scale don't move. This is the part that makes me sad and want to give up. - 3/19/2009   10:36:46 PM
  • 91
    I guess I have had my head in the sand since I never really thought about muscle burning more calories than fat. But the info in the last paragraph will motivate me. Having increased energy, better tone etc IS very important to me. I'll take every little bit of calorie burn and other motivation, thanks!. - 3/19/2009   10:15:23 PM
  • 90
    It's still more calories burned than fat.
    And muscle looks a lot better than fat under the skin. =) - 3/19/2009   9:43:48 PM
  • LAURA618
    89
    I think "everything in moderation" is important to remember here. I personally prefer cardio training, but I do strength training 2x a week, vs. cardio 3x a week. - 3/19/2009   8:15:23 PM
  • 88
    Hmmm...that's a little disappointing. But I will definitely keep strength training. It's important too and has lots of other benefits. - 3/19/2009   7:52:07 PM
  • 87
    I do strength training mostly because muscle does look better then fat, and honestly never thought much about how much either burns. I don't want body builder type muscles, just want less fat and tighter frame. I will keep doing my carido for calorie burning. - 3/19/2009   6:45:52 PM
  • TRYINGHARD1948
    86
    Due to illness I haven't been able to keep to a strength program since the beginning of the year. I'm not worried about the calories muscle burns, I'm still the same weight but I can see that muscle looks much better than fat on the body. - 3/19/2009   4:39:31 PM
  • 85
    I don't include enough strength training in my exercise so I guess it's time to re-examine my exercise routine and balance things out a little more. - 3/19/2009   2:11:07 PM
  • 84
    It may not burn as many calories as we think, but I am a former collegiate powerlifter. I don't think that I could/ can make it through school then or now without my weights. It is my main form of relieving stress. So to keep my sanity and preserve everyone else's, I think I will continue to burn all the calories I can for strength training whether it is 3 or 300! - 3/19/2009   1:53:32 PM
  • 83
    My strength training has put my mushy arms back into a tank top. I'll take a step class if I want to burn calories. I love my stength training. - 3/19/2009   12:15:28 PM
  • 82
    Of course I will continue to strength train. Even if the muscles don't burn that many more calories it's nice to look lean and toned. - 3/19/2009   10:54:17 AM
  • 81
    I will continue to strength train. I love the results (physically and psychologically) and it helps my form and endurance in other sports. By having strong, balanced muscles, there is less chance for injury. I should keep in mind that it's not a big calorie burner. I'm guilty of over-estimating the number of calories I burn while exercising and underestimating the number of calories I eat. - 3/19/2009   9:44:23 AM
  • 80
    Since I didn't know how many calories muscle burned at rest before about 3 minutes ago I guess I will continue to weight train. Even being very overweight as I am I can still see a difference having lost 40 lbs with weight training then when I lost 40 lbs just following a diet program. AND I feel Great and look forward to the three days a week I do weight training. - 3/19/2009   9:36:25 AM
  • 79
    I will continue to strength train because building muscle helps stave off osteoporosis. I don't care if muscle burns 2 or 12 calories per day - I strengthen my muscles doing ANY activity - be it biking, hiking, elliptical, or lifting at the gym. I will continue to hit the gym 2 days a week for as long as I am able, and do the cardio 3x/week. Strength training is more than just being about losing pounds.

    My point is: the number of calories mentioned in the article is burned per ONE POUND OF MUSCLE? Because if it is, I'm pretty sure have more than ONE! LOL. - 3/19/2009   9:34:46 AM

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