The SparkPeople Blog

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

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

  • 78
    I liked DLCJ21's comment. All these studies are helpful, but it really does depend on each person's body.
    I like seeing definition in my arms, so I'll never quit strength training! Besides, Coach Nicole is right, every little bit helps. - 3/19/2009   9:17:53 AM
  • 77
    I'm not too surprised, but another important thing about gaining muscle is that it takes up less room then fat! So by gaining muscle, you're slimming down and toning up!

    I noticed over the last couple weeks I haven't been able to strength train and I can notice a difference in the way my body is softening! i need to get back to it! - 3/19/2009   8:30:27 AM
  • 76
    I will continue to lift weights. I don't want to look like my Mom at 78. She is bent over and while she is pretty healthy and not overweight, she has trouble lifting herself out of a chair and walks really slowly. My mother in law has osteoporosis and breaks a bone almost every year. I want to avoid ALL of that! - 3/19/2009   8:29:40 AM
  • DEDEVYV
    75
    I'm not concerned. I don't know what the "magic" is, but studies with older people have shown that strength training increases health and life span. It also looks better than total flab. - 3/19/2009   8:24:16 AM
  • 74
    I am not too surprised. I will continue my strength training. It has so many other benefits to just burning calories. It just feels good it to be a "strong chick". :) - 3/19/2009   8:11:31 AM
  • 73
    I don't care if strength training burns as many calories at rest than they thought...I do it to strengthen my body and doesn't a taught, lean body look better than a thin jiggly one?? - 3/19/2009   8:00:21 AM
  • 72
    I will continue to do strength training because I love what it does for how I look - I don't really care about the calories muscle burns! - 3/19/2009   7:56:57 AM
  • 71
    This lifestyle change cannot be one dimensional, just focusing on calories burned and pounds lost. Being fit and toned counts for a lot more than just the numbers. And how about the emotional apsect of this new way of living. We are empowered each and every time we make a better choice and it nudges us forward for another day. - 3/19/2009   7:47:44 AM
  • 70
    In my opinion, every little bit helps....so I say bring on the muscle, besides it looks better than fat anyday! - 3/19/2009   7:12:55 AM
  • TOOTZ480
    69
    I am not surprised....I will continue to do Strength Building Exercises with dumbells..espically since I have noticed at my age...my arms do not jiggle as much as before I started. I have better balance...and I am stronger. Thanks Sparkpeople - 3/19/2009   7:11:25 AM
  • MSALWILLIAMS
    68
    WETMAC you are not doing cardio by choice just to try to burn as many calories as possible but because it is your only option so she wouldn't be referring to you. So I would advise you to think before you react to a comment that isn't aimed at you. I don't understand why people have to become so offended but simple terms that are not mean at all.

    I use to be the "cardio bunny" and I'm not insulted at all. I in fact find the term to be cute. I have been doing a lot more strength training lately and a lot less cardio. Mostly due to how my day goes. I can do half an hour of ST and feel it more without a sweat then when I do cardio which leaves me all sticky.

    I am surprised about how few calories the muscle burns at rest but now I know the truth and will still keep up my strength training because there is more to it then just the extra calories burned while at rest. I want to be physically fit and I'm working towards a goal of being able to do 1-2 regular pushups...I can only do 15 modified at a time right now and I can go about half way down on a regular pushup. But as with anything doing with fitness we all make a lot of assumptions and it is refreshing to hear the truth even if it might discourage a few but those people need to remember a pound of muscle takes up less space then a pound of fat. - 3/19/2009   6:41:01 AM
  • 67
    I strength train in order not to lose muscle and strength. I don't want to be frail and fragile - 3/19/2009   6:14:55 AM
  • 66
    Ms. Nichols, I am going to take you to task over the way you have presented this article. I resent being labelled simply as a 'cardio bunny' and I am sure that others will have been upset by this remark as well. I am disabled and because of the nature of my disabilities the only exercise I can do is cardio. I cannot strerngth train because I suffer with muscle trremors and up to and including whole body spasms and lock-ups. Whilst strength training may be a valid and reasonable exercise regimen for those who are able, we 'cardio bunnies' often have to compromise in order to get any exercise at all. I therefore ask that you might think before you write. I used to be able to do all forms of exercise and was extemely active until I got sick. A lot of people are in the same boat and do what they can to try and retain such muscle as they have. What you fail to realise is that doing any exercise at all can, for some, have consequences which you cannot even begin to imagine. I am lucky in that I can still do things like gardening, or walk on the flat, (with the aid of a delta walker), for up to 400 paces without too many consequences, although even then I have to be extremely careful. Whilst it may be fashionable these days to generalise and put labels to things, sometimes it can be a bit insensitive. Therefore, I ask that you stop doing this and instead simply be as positive towards everybody. Not everyone can do the things that you probably take for granted. - 3/19/2009   6:14:39 AM
  • 65
    okay, being a large lady of 49 years, I have been strength training for about 6 weeks. Two days a week. My trainer is very excited about my BMI. I didn't register at all first time she checked, now I register. It's exciting, maybe more than losing the weight. The big plus is I really feel more put together, not as sloppy and jiggly. I sweat and feel like I have really done something. The weight isn't dropping as fast as I would like, but I am older, hopefully wiser and will keep this new lifestyle up for the rest of my life. There are tape measures, BMI checks and the scales to see progress. I personally will take any and all good news...every scrap and feel better about myself and make this a success! - 3/19/2009   2:32:27 AM
  • COGLINE
    64
    I feel as though this article is a bit misleading. Was it written to give people who were iffy on strength training in the first place the will power to say "No, i won't do it!" ? Although there's a disclaimer at the bottom saying that strength training is useful, i think they're a bit lacking.

    its the strength training itself that is supposed to burn all those calories, why would unused muscle burn a whole of calories when it is not doing anything?

    - 3/19/2009   1:32:47 AM
  • 63
    VERY INFORMATIVE ARTICLE. YES I ALREADY DO STRENGTH EXERCISES FOR MY ARMS. FOR A LONG TIME AGO I WAS INFACT SCARED AND INTIMIDATED BY USING WEIGHT. REASON IS BECAUSE I DIDN'T WANT MY BODY TO LOOK ALL MUSCLED UP LIKE BODY BUILDERS. THANKS TO THE INFORMATION I'M LEARNING, AND FOR THE CLARITY OF THIS ARTICLE I REALLY UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF USING WEIGHT. I DIDN'T KNOW U CAN BURN MORE CALORIES BY THIS. - 3/19/2009   12:51:06 AM
  • 62
    Wow, this article found me at perfect timing. I was just having this discussion last night at the gym. I don't believe that weight training makes someone lose weight faster. I have always believed it is calorie intake that makes the difference, and the type of excess calorie you chose to eat is the same one that will be stored.
    I avoided doing any type of weight lifting or body conditioning because I am one of those women who is afraid to bulk up. But sparkpeople has definitely cleared that myth.. (no you dont bulk up from weight lifting).

    Anyhow Just wanted to say thanks for the read.
    I have some ammo when I hit the gym later this week. *winks.
    Ciao, K - 3/19/2009   12:06:49 AM
  • 61
    Convert 1 lb of fat to muscle - 6 calories a day. Convert 10 lbs of fat to muscle - 60 calories a day. Not jiggling like jello every time I sneeze - Priceless!! - 3/18/2009   10:44:35 PM
  • 60
    very interesting - 3/18/2009   10:32:10 PM
  • 59
    I think the very best reason to strength train is that it makes you stronger so that you can DO more. In other words, lifting weights can actually make you a more useful person in REAL LIFE, not just in the microcosm of the gym or fitness world. It's exciting to be able to lift things that used to be too heavy for you, or to be able to do things easily that used to wear you out. And that's really what most of us are on SP for, isn't it? To live LIFE more fully? - 3/18/2009   9:55:41 PM
  • DLCJ21
    58
    I'd be interested in viewing this guys research. Who's to say that both studies aren't right? Maybe in one person a pound of muscle burns 30-50 calories a day and in another it burns 7-10 a day? Maybe its just like a bigger person will burn more calories doing the same exercise a person that's in shape will do because it takes more effort for the larger person to do it than the one that is in shape.

    I never take these things literally and tracking calories burned is not an exact science and heavily depends on the individual.

    Doing some strength training makes me feel better than doing just cardio alone and the muscle strength and definition is very motivating for me. Who really counts how many calories they are burning while they're resting anyway? The only time I track calories is when I'm eating, and when I'm doing cardio, everything else I burn is just an added bonus. - 3/18/2009   6:57:48 PM
  • BREEZEMO
    57
    Well, reading a good amount of these comments, it's easy to see that most of these women are pretty smart...... Keep lifting and strength training & you'll always
    look your best!!! - 3/18/2009   6:45:38 PM
  • 56
    I'm not surprised at all! I've been strength training for years and still have to work hard to lose weight, even with more muscle. Besides, I don't strength train to burn calories, I do it for the health benefits. - 3/18/2009   6:19:23 PM
  • 55
    Today I bought a strength training exercise set that you put water in and get more pounds with more water. There are various sizes. I know from exercise that I lose inches even if I don't lose pounds so they do add up. - 3/18/2009   6:00:34 PM
  • 54
    This is an interesting article.

    Thanks for the valuable information. - 3/18/2009   3:49:29 PM
  • 53
    I am happy regardless that muscle burns more, no matter how much it is. I love the fact that in a year, because I have been working out with weights and such, I can sit around on a lazy afternoon and burn a little more than if I hadn't did the weight training. - 3/18/2009   3:48:54 PM
  • PENNYANNE2
    52
    I knew muscles burned more but didn't really know how much...not much it seems. But I sort of enjoy strength training and so trying to get back into it hoping it tones and makes me a little stronger. This is my main focus. - 3/18/2009   3:47:05 PM
  • 51
    Why is it that the number of calories you burn DURING a ST workout are never mentioned? I for one get an elevated heart rate during a leg workout. I'm not sure how many calories I burn but I'm sure it's up there especially while working those larger muscles. Sweat dripping off your head, muscles shaking......that's good stuff!!! LOL - 3/18/2009   3:09:17 PM
  • 50
    I recently restarted strength training, not for the calorie burn, but to fight the soggy, flabby look that descends on us as we age. Strength training also supports joint movement which also declines as we age. - 3/18/2009   2:26:41 PM
  • 49
    Number of calories burned by muscle has never been a motivator for ST for me, anyway. I just love getting stronger, being more toned, and all the other great things ST gives me. If it burns more calories, even a little, that is just a bonus. - 3/18/2009   2:18:53 PM
  • 48
    I was never impressed with the first statement on how many more calories muscles burned. It takes a while to build up enoough muscles for it to count much. My motivation for strength training is that I don't want to be a skinny fatty. I love the way muscles tighten and smooth you out. - 3/18/2009   1:57:13 PM
  • 47
    Toned muscles give us so many health benefits...posture, bone strength, and self esteem...and fat is toxic. In general, those muscles give me more strength to endure the harder workouts and burn more calories in that way. I'll strength train to gain all the other benefits of muscle. - 3/18/2009   1:04:20 PM
  • 46
    I have read or heard about many benefits with rebuilding muscle and can't remember too many times where it was stated the calorie burn by muscle.

    Perhaps the extra muscle does not burn that much more then fat...but look at all the extra activities we can do and that DOES burn more calories, right?
    A strong healthy toned body is going to get out there and move it ....versus a weak tired body or being ashamed yet because everything just hangs there on us literally.

    The benefit of muscle is so much more then simple calorie burn. I want to be active with my family and be strong enough to keep up. No more sidelines for me and I need strong bones and healthy muscles for that..including the heart and lungs.
    - 3/18/2009   1:02:38 PM
  • 45
    Actually, this is ENCOURAGING news for me . . . I am finally getting a handle on the exercise part of this equation but have found that there are not enough hours in a day to do everything I want . . . this answers my question as to whether I should sacrifice some cardio to do extra strength training. The answer is no . . . I'll concentrate on doing 2 days of strength instead of 3 and use that extra session for a bit more cardio. - 3/18/2009   1:02:36 PM
  • 44
    I'll still be strength training. Toned muscles are healthy and beautiful. - 3/18/2009   12:49:46 PM
  • DAN_ODEA
    43
    I've often corrected people about the math mentioned in the article. I've always done strength training for two reasons: to maintain muscle tone and bone growth. I don't care if I looked ripped, and I've often wondered about that term, considering the numerous muscle strains and tears (rips) I suffered back in high school and college playing baseball full-time. Even with daily workouts back then I was never ripped (although I was a lot stronger than I looked). One doesn't need to be ripped, IMHO, except for personal vanity. A lean, not-sloppy, healthy body is more attractive to me than is someone who's extremely defined. Sorry for the vent. - 3/18/2009   12:45:20 PM
  • 42
    I don't really care how many calories they burn, my muscles simply look rad. I'll keep 'em. :) - 3/18/2009   12:39:26 PM
  • JEVNES
    41
    Well, that's a bummer. But if you look at it over time, losing something is better than nothing, or worse yet, gaining. - 3/18/2009   12:36:52 PM
  • TITANIA111
    40
    When it comes to info it just gets more and more confusing. Do this. Don't do that. No wonder many give up out of frustration. I lift weights now to benefit bone health. If I tone that's good but no more stressing about every minute thing I do in life. Now is the time to live. Why look back and realize you spent your whole life worrying and not once enjoyed the ride? - 3/18/2009   12:33:12 PM
  • 39
    I think it all stemmed from bodybuilders, who before didn't do alot of cardio, just strength/weight trained and controlled what they ate. So I don't think it was ever based on science fact.

    And I think it differs with different people. I've seen great result, since doing strength/weight training as to just doing hours of cardio.

    I hope this doesn't deter anyone from doing strength/weight training, there are many benefits - 3/18/2009   12:31:36 PM
  • 38
    I feel this article is pretty discouraging, especially if you are not too much into strength training.
    I know all the benefits of it, and I do it regularly anyway, but the way it was presented here makes me feel like why bother, you do all that job and you burn just a few more calories a day...
    And then...COMPARE TO EATING A FEW POTATO CHIPS!!!!
    How in the world????
    It was pretty discouraging... I know many people will think that I am crazy and I might be, but do not tell me that all my hard work is worth just a few calories in such a way.
    I know the writer tried to fix afterwards, adding all the number per month and year, but did not work for me. Sorry.
    Thanks for the info anyway... - 3/18/2009   12:23:10 PM
  • EAT_MOVE_LIVE
    37
    I will keep up the strength training for sure!!! I noticed that women who strength train seem to age in reverse LOL:) I want to be tight and toned instead of flabby and loose. I want to have the arms of a 25 year old when I'm 50!! I don't really worry about the calories that muscle burns vs fat, I'm all about the looks LOL:) - 3/18/2009   12:17:01 PM
  • CHER321
    36
    I plan on doing strength training along with my cardio for overall better fitness and health. I need all the help I can get! :-) - 3/18/2009   12:06:22 PM
  • BIBLECHICK
    35
    Thank you for posting Dr. Bryant's article. - 3/18/2009   12:03:01 PM
  • 34
    So: "[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. " That means 3 times more calories burned by muscle than by fat? But that's A LOT!!! How much more would you expect? I do ST for other reasons than this (bones health, toning, endurance), but I still think the amount of calories burned by muscle compared to that burned by fat is pretty reasonable. - 3/18/2009   11:59:00 AM
  • 33
    It all adds up in the end. I'll take that extra 15-30 calories per pound because over a year it ends up being a bigger number. It's an even larger number if you gain more than 5lbs of muscle. I much rather have muscle than flab. Strength training has so many other benefits besides increasing your metabolic rate - it reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis, prevents injuries, increases performance potential, and improves psychological well-being. - 3/18/2009   11:49:12 AM
  • 32
    I haven't read the article from the Dr. cited above, but I plan to. I would think that muscle building may burn slightly more than they think because, if you're doing it properly, you are tearing muscle fibers as you lift, and then the muscles spend the rest-time repairing i.e. getting stronger, therefore there should be more energy expended in the rebuilding process. JMO. - 3/18/2009   11:41:22 AM
  • 31
    I am going to continue lifting. I love the difference I see.

    - 3/18/2009   11:39:32 AM
  • 30
    Strength training to me was always more about firmness and being strong to prevent injury and do more! Trying not to worry about calories that I am burning on the couch :) - 3/18/2009   11:34:52 AM
  • 29
    It was kind of discouraging at first, but once you calculated the calories burned monthly and yearly its definitely worth while. Which translates to me how important it is to get the whole picture before coming to a conclusion.

    Spark4life!

    Losin - 3/18/2009   11:26:14 AM

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