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