Does Building Muscle Burn Fat, Burn Calories & Increase Metabolism?

How many times have you read an article about weight loss that contained a list of “fat burning tips” or any kind of advice aimed at helping you lose fat better, faster or easier?

And how many of those times did you come across the suggestion that weight training is super important, because it will allow you to build muscle… and building muscle will significantly help you burn more calories, increase your metabolism and burn fat faster?

You’ve heard it a million times, haven’t you?

The thing is, while this advice is based on truth, it’s mostly exaggerated bullshit.

Muscle Burns Fat? Kinda…

The theory goes a little something like this. The human body naturally burns more calories each day to maintain a pound of muscle than it does to maintain a pound of fat. Therefore, the more muscle you build, the more calories your body will naturally burn each day at rest.

Which means, just by building muscle, you’ll significantly increase your metabolism and turn your body into a calorie burning, fat melting machine… and this will obviously improve your overall fat loss progress.

Now, is any of that actually true? Technically speaking, it kinda is. For example:

  • FACT: Your body really DOES burn more calories maintaining muscle than it does maintaining fat.
  • FACT: This means that YES, the more muscle you build, the more calories your body will naturally burn each day on its own.
  • FACT: Which means that building muscle DOES increase your metabolism.
  • FACT: And this all means that building muscle definitely has the potential to help you lose fat.

With me so far? Good, because here’s where it all starts to get a little screwy.

You see, the problem with this theory/advice isn’t so much that it’s wrong but rather that it’s just highly exaggerated, way over-hyped (usually to sell some crappy product), and extremely insignificant in terms of the actual effect building muscle will have on helping you lose fat.

How Many Calories Does Muscle REALLY Burn?

To get to the root of the problem, you need to understand how many calories muscle actually burns. Depending on where you get your diet and fitness information from, you may come across the suggestion that 1 pound of muscle burns as much as 25, or 50, or even 100 additional calories per day.

If this were true, then building 5lbs of muscle would lead to as much as 500 extra calories being burned by your body per day, and this would indeed be a huge increase to your metabolism that would indeed have a significant positive effect on your ability to burn fat.

Unfortunately, muscle doesn’t burn anywhere near that amount of calories.

Instead, based on all the research I’ve seen, the actual numbers are more like this…

One pound of muscle burns approximately 5-6 calories per day at rest.

Wow… 5 or 6 whole calories?!?! I can feel my metabolism increasing as we speak!

This would mean that building 5lbs of muscle would lead to you burning an additional 25-30 calories per day. Building 10lbs of muscle would lead to a whopping 50-60 extra calories burned per day. You’d have to build the maximum amount of muscle that your body is capable of building in your entire lifetime before the amount of calories it burns gets even close to the crazy “significant” levels people incorrectly assume.

And in case you’re wondering, 1 pound of fat burns about 2 calories at rest. So yeah, muscle does burn more calories than fat… but not exactly enough for it to truly matter in the end. I mean, if you lost 5lbs of fat and gained 5lbs of muscle, your metabolism would increase by a whole 15-20 calories per day.

I think that deserves another sarcastic wow… “WOW!”

The Moral Of This Story

So, what’s the takeaway message here? It’s pretty simple.

While I will always recommend weight training during fat loss (primarily because it’s a requirement for maintaining muscle while losing fat), the idea that it’s helping you build muscle and this muscle is having a significant fat burning effect is mostly just exaggerated bullshit that is often:

  • A) Repeated by people who don’t know what they’re talking about (like most fitness myths are).
  • B) Used to help sell some junky product built mostly on hype and fancy marketing. (“Build Muscle And Turn Your Body Into A Fat Torching Furnace!”)
  • C) Used to fill yet another generic list of “fat loss tips” written by some clueless person who’s just rewriting the same nonsense they stole from some other equally useless list of tips.

So, will building muscle help you burn fat? Potentially… a tiny bit. However, while every little bit helps, it’s unlikely it will ever make anywhere near enough of a difference to truly have a significant effect on your fat loss efforts.

Instead of trying to increase your metabolism, you’ll be better off trying to eat less total calories (or trying to increase activity to burn more of them). This will always have the legit significant fat burning effect you’re looking for.

More about that here: How To Lose Fat

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67 Comments

  1. Christoffer Marxen says

    Allways a pleasure reading your posts. Thanks. So much bullshit about fatloss out there. As you say; eat less, work harder… Simple as that.

  2. Ben says

    Love this article. I have a question: If you add muscle, will it significantly help you burn calories while exercising (cardio/weight lifting/sports/etc.)? I’m assuming the exercises use the added muscle.

    i.e. Adding muscle to your legs will significantly help you burn more calories while running.

    • says

      Hmmmm, I’m not 100% sure I understand what you’re asking.

      If you mean would a person who is 170lbs burn more calories during exercise if they built 10 additional pounds of muscle and were now 180lbs, the answer is yes (with all else being equal). But again, the difference here wouldn’t be all that significant.

      In addition, the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn through EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption) while the muscle is recovering from intense training. The difference here is probably bigger, but it’s still not going to be THAT significant.

      Basically, having more muscle on your body will increase the amount of calories you burn at rest, during exercise, and afterwards during the recovery period. No doubt about that at all. However, unless you add a very significant amount of muscle to your body, it’s unlikely any of it will add up to being enough to truly make a significant dent in your fat loss efforts.

  3. Gerardo says

    How true is it that metabolism stays high hours after a weight training session as your body tries to repair the damaged muscle? Some people claim it stays elevated for up to 48 hours. Does our body consume more calories as it tries to recover from a weight training session>

    • says

      It’s not just weight training, it’s after any form of exercise. The more intense it is, the more “after burn” there will be. This is why HIIT (high intensity interval training) gets so much love over steady state cardio… there’s more after burn. This process is known as EPOC… excess post exercise oxygen consumption, and it’s definitely a real thing.

      However, it’s just again FAR less significant than people make it out to be. Off the top of my head I remember one study showing that EPOC ranges from between 7-14% of the original calories burned during the activity itself (steady state was nearer to 7%, HIIT nearer to 14%).

      Meaning, if you do HIIT and burn 200 calories, the “after burn” effect of that will only be an additional 28 calories burned. It’s something, just not much.

  4. Naz says

    Just wanted to clarify my understanding based on what you have written in the article. Is one stuck with a genetically pre-determined metabolic rate — and any boost to that through HIIT is temporary, or (with increased muscle) can only be that much and no further.

    What are the ways (if any) to create a permanent increase (boost) in basic metabolic rate ?

  5. Wildwabbit says

    Great article, the only thing that I am aware of that may increase (i know this is controversial)metabolism, is eating smaller meals more often. The theory being that if you can convince your body that there is always a bit of energy(food) on the way it doesn’t worry about storing it(turning it to fat) it will process more waste.

    I’m only saying this out of experience and I’ve toyed around with the concept, and have found that I could increase my caloric intake by having it over more meals/intervals and still experienced almost identical weight loss when I was having my meals/food less often but overall during the day less calories.

    I’m not suggesting its going to create a huge difference maybe 10%-15% more calories in a day, for me anyway. That extra protein shake and nut bar is worth it for me, keeps me sane anyway.

    In a nutshell I basically give my body energy as it needs it. Being a construction worker I burn quite a lot during an average 9-10hr day, so it may suit my lifestyle better than most people.

    I hate squats on work days!

      • Jackie says

        You’re right, and the link article is right, but both miss a really important thing, which is all the research about why people overeat. Great if you don’t have that problem, but for many people who do, managing blood sugar levels has been proven to have a very significant effect on how much people eat. Not about metabolism, just about blood sugar. Evaluated NHS programmes for eating disorders are based on this evidence. Lots of people don’t need to eat regularly because they can manage the erratic blood sugar. Lots of people can’t, and that’s why they battle over and over with trying to stick to diets.

        • says

          And for every person like this, you’ll find someone else who is left feeling annoyed, hungry and unsatisfied all the time as a result of eating a bunch of frequent snack-sized meals. When they then switch to eating much larger/more satisfying (but less frequent) meals, the do and feel a million times better.

          Which of course is why meal frequency should be based on nothing more than each person’s own preferences. Do what you like best.

  6. Wildwabbit says

    I’m not going to argue with your wealth of knowledge on the matter.

    I have much respect for your opinion and enjoy everything I read on this site.

    I have found that spreading my meals out has certainly made it easier to keep my diet in a calorie deficit.

    For this alone I would recommend trying this if you are trying to loose weight, you may trade off that completely full feeling that we are often addicted too, but you will rarely feel that famished feeling that can lead to binges and diet breakers.

    But as always different horses for different courses, what has worked well for me may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

    In retrospect I did start on a highrise construction project at roughly the same time I increased my calorie intake. I now climb stairs (1-4 levels at a time) regularly during the day as opposed to the last project I was on. Over the period of a day I could be climbing close to 50 or more flights of stairs (usually while carrying heavy tools and/or materials) Could be this factor which has kept my weight loss constant after a calorie increase.

    From day to day it’s hard to know how much I burn, as my duties are extremely varied, but being physically aware of what I am doing I adjust my intake as to what I have done or am going to do. Some days I eat very little and don’t feel hungry at all, where as on other days when I have been run off my feet and physically exerting myself the food I have allowed myself for the day (plus the spare couple of protein bars left over from the day before) barely feels like its even touched my stomach.

    This is the main reasons spreading my meals works very well for me, as it gives me more opportunity to adjust my intake to my needs.

    • says

      Bingo, now you’ve got it right. There’s no difference in “speeding up your metabolism” between frequent and infrequent meals. The only difference between them is that one way might better suit some people more than others.

      So, for some people, eating more often helps them stick to their diet, keeps them satisfied and allows them to consistently do what needs to be done diet-wise to get the results they want.

      But for everyone like that, there’s someone else who feels the exact same way about eating less often.

      It just comes down to figuring out what’s best for you and then doing it.

      • Camryn says

        I really love the clear, layman’s tone of your articles. My confusion – there are so few now that I’ve been reading your site – comes from the idea of having to “kickstart” your metobolism.

        Is this also another exaggeration or does the body really go into a “hoarder” when you reduce calorie intake significantly?

        I’m starting a weight trainging program – its a full body routine that I plan to do 3 times a week and I don’t want to sabotage myself with more myths.

        Thanks for sharing all of your experience!

        • says

          The idea of needing to “kick start” your metabolism (often referred to when explaining the supposed importance of eating breakfast) is total nonsense.

          As for consistently consuming WAY too few calories, a lot of bad stuff happens. I’ll be writing more about it in the future (and I’ve cover “starvation mode” as well).

          • Camryn says

            Thanks!

            It seemed illogical that ‘kick starting’ would be necessary in the face of all the tests and reports you presented.

            Its scary how many of the same myths are out there, its dangerous.

  7. Daya Muthu says

    Finally, someone who talks sense and pointing out the obvious. Great job bro. Simple logic to get the job done. Everyone could use a bit of sarcasm and jokes here and there..why the hell not? lol Keep doing what you doing bro ! One word. Awesome. Respect and admiration from the Philippines.

  8. Gil says

    Great post thanks. I have to admit, I’d been taken in by this one. Its good to have it clarified. Amusing and succinct way to explain it!

  9. Mike says

    Hey there, I couldn’t find a place to comment on the meal time website so I thought I would ask you, but what are your views on having smaller meals? Not on the subject of tricking your metabolism but reducing or keeping your blood glucose level more consistent as when the blood glucose level rises past a certain point insulin is released which converts glucose into fat molecules to be stored in fat cells.

  10. DD says

    Thanks for the article, very imformative. I’ve been working out and eating MUCH better for 3 months or so. I started at 330 and am at 293. I’m seeing a trainer and lift 2X a week with 35min of cardio on lifting days, and an hour of cardio on two off days. My diet isn’t low carb, but I’m limiting my carbs, drink 1+ gallons of water, eating several smaller meals. I’m seeing what appears to be a slight increase in muscle size and am losing fat all over. I kind of thought I was building muscle and losing fat but I’m wondering what’s really going on after reading your article.

    • says

      Something like that. Although, you’re not actually going to have 160lbs of muscle on your body. You might weigh 160lbs, but you have to take fat, water, bones, connective tissue, etc. into account. It’s far from actually being 160lbs of muscle.

  11. Henk says

    There are several conflicting studies on how many calories are burned per lb or muscle per day. What research did you come across that states 5-6 is accurate? I’d like to read more about it.

  12. Henry says

    I’ve only read 2 articles from this website and I can tell you honestly it is better than 99% of the articles I’ve read in my life. Interesting topics and concise. It’s a definite subscribe from me and keep up the good work!

  13. Neal says

    However, the analysis does not consider secondary effects. Fat people tend to move more sluggish and do less activity. Muscular people tend to be far more energetic and active. Sure muscle just sitting there may not burn a large amount of more calories but the fact the muscle makes you want to move and do more does significantly increase calories burned.

    • says

      How exactly does muscle make you want to move? Being less fat might make you want to move, but that’s just because you’re less fat and it’s a lot easier to move now than it previously was. Muscle itself isn’t doing that.

  14. Jose says

    Hi Jay!

    Good article! It sure will bust that myth away.

    BTW, do you happen to know if it is possible to preserve all gained muscle after a bulk when i cut?
    No matter how perfect my diet and macros are, i always lose muscle with fat.
    Sometimes im able to keep intensity, sometimes im not. But the result in the end is the same.

  15. Oliver says

    This was great ! just what i was looking for. I’ll be reading more of these articles and getting stronger and smarter as i grow. Thanks for this

  16. Rose says

    Can I just ask how you got this information? Where did you get your numbers from and what makes your article believable compared to the others?

    I’d like sources, statistics and facts please.

  17. Nikka says

    Is this a myth: eat within 30 minutes after lifting or you wasted your workout. I want to lose weight and so I run and also workout with weights. I eat whenever and track it in my fitness pal app. Sometimes I don’t want to eat after working out because it is late at night. Is that a myth too: eating late will cause you to gain weight.. Im confused what to do if you like lifting at night before bed. I wanna look good and lose body fat and tone so i do both strength training and cardio everyday. A calorie is a calorie so i workout and eat less. I hope it is a myth because I would hate wasting my time strenghth training all for nothing. Also why do girls have to lift light weight high reps? This will tone only? I want to build a nice physique like those fitness models. Wish i knew their diet and exercise secrets. Please help me know how to get a nice body like a bikini model. My life would be complete.

  18. Phe says

    Thanks for the article! It was short enough that I found the one answer I was looking for in a couple of minutes. Thank goodness, too, because I was practically drowning in other sites who couldn’t seem to make up their minds on the subject;

    “Muscle burns TONS of calories–well, always taking into account this that and the other thing–but it burns TONS of fat too! well, except…”

    Thanks again!

  19. Quillard says

    Man, that was gratifying to read.

    But then, what’s to be said about working out more muscle with the same amount of electric impulses (effort)? Having more muscle certainly allows you to spend more, more easily, no?

    I’m going to assume you said yes to that, though, and instead ask something that truly boggles me.

    Assuming that there is a minimal effective dose of workout and muscle-gain to each muscle… and that any pushing beyond that point becomes a process of constant steady effort and diminishing returns, isn’t it better (workout-wise)to get as many different muscles up to that minimum effective dose (meaning different complex exercizes with different dominant muscles)?

  20. Mazen says

    Hey I had a quick question. I’m about 290 6’3 I’m not too muscular or to fat(but I’m on the fatter side lol) if I was get bigger more muscular and lose weight should I lose weight first than get like muscle mass or should I just go straight into muscle mass right now. Would I like lose the fat would my muscle just stay under the fat lol I’m a little confused thank you .

  21. derek m says

    would it be fair to say though that even though muscles don’t give idle metabolism to kill calories, the action of building muscle burns a whole lot of calories though? sure maybe not as much as cardio might, but i find that lifting keeps my body weight down in general.

    in particular days where i do dead lifts or power cleans i find i’m extremely hungrier than usual by the amount of energy i feel i expended.

    or is this one of those deceptive reactions my body is having.

  22. Audrey says

    Interesting read. Honestly, though, I couldn’t seem to lose fat doing cardio three times a week and eating healthier. If it was happening before I did more research and revamped my routine, it was barely perceptible. Only after I added weight training and eating every 2 1/2 hours, did the fat start melting. I couldn’t tell so much by the bathroom scale, but I dropped 4 sizes and lots of flabbiness. How is it that the fat loss was so significant if weight training and eating frequently isn’t as true as it is hyped?

  23. Audrey says

    * To clarify, I didn’t just add weight training…..I actually incorporated it into my cardio every day. I guess it’s called a circuit workout. I would do hard cardio for 5 minutes, then with no break, I would lift (working one group of muscles per circuit/day) and then hard cardio directly after. I would alternate like that until I had gone through the whole circuit three times. It was definitely not a lazy person’s workout and I definitely had days where I wanted to just quit halfway through! Maybe the combination had more to do with the fat loss than just adding weight training. So, I wanted to clarify. Thanks!

    • says

      So you added additional calorie-burning activity? Doing so would (obviously) burn more calories which could lead to the creation of the caloric deficit you need for fat loss to occur.

  24. Grant says

    Hi, I’m an ectomorph/hard-gainer, whatever you wanna call it… skinny dude.

    I’ve been busy for the last 2 months doing upper body muscle building workouts. My body type is strange in that my upper body looks way less developed than my lower body, and I’ve been attempting to rectify that by focusing strictly on the upper body building and then when things start looking more symmetrical I will start going into full body workout mode. I’m also using whey protein and creatine and I’ve been eating a hell of a lot more than I use too, because I use to eat way to little… like one or two meals a day.

    For the last 2 years now I’ve developed a large gut… So I’ve got an undeveloped upper body and a gut, which doesn’t look great. This is probably because I use to eat tons of chocolates and junk food and drank tons of coffee with 3 or 4 teaspoons of sugar a day… Thats all over now though.

    Anyways, after 2 months of working out I can see that my upper body is beginning to get more developed, and my gut is slowly shrinking but not at the rate that I would like… So in short, i’m asking if I can effectively cut down on body fat without affecting my ability to build muscle from an ectomorph perspective in which I’m being encouraged to eat alot more… I’ve stopped eating white bread and crisps and chocolates and all junk food in general. I basically don’t eat luxuries anymore.

    I’ve been told that doing cardio will divert my bodies attention from building muscle to cardio activities and that this will ultimately slow down my muscle growth.

    So whats the best thing I can do to cut back on fat without affecting my muscle growth.

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