You’ve likely heard that one of the important reasons to lift weights and perform resistance training is to build muscle, which is true.
You’ve also been told that the reason it is important to have muscle is that the more muscle you have the higher your resting metabolic rate will be since muscle “burns more calories than fat.”
In fact, some “experts” say that for every extra pound of muscle you gain you’ll burn between 30-50 extra calories a day.
But, is this actually true?
Does having more muscle really increase your metabolism to any substantial degree?
Does Building Muscle Boost Metabolism?
The short answer is that yes, building muscle does increase more metabolism.
The longer, more nuanced answer is that the increase in metabolic rate from having more muscle isn’t as big as you’ve been led to believe.
Research indicates that for every pound of hard-earned muscle an individual builds, they will burn about an additional 4-7 calories per day.[1,2,3]
Basically, if you want to increase your metabolism by 100 calories per day, you’d need to add 10-20 pounds of lean muscle mass to your body.
This is no small amount of muscle. It would take years to build this amount of muscle naturally.
Now, don’t let this discourage you in your quest to gain strength and build muscle.
There is a silver lining…
The Real Benefit of Building Muscle
While adding 10-20 pounds of muscle doesn’t transform your metabolism into a raging inferno that can incinerate 10,000 calorie challenges in the blink of an eye, there are several other reasons you should strongly consider adding lean muscle to your frame.
For starters, muscle mass is a key factor in longevity, which means the more muscle you have, the longer your lifespan will likely be.
Second, having more lean mass compared to someone of similar body weight with less lean mass means you’ll burn a bit more calories while at rest. This isn’t a tremendous difference (50-100 calories), but every little bit helps when it comes to dieting.
Third, having more muscle mass enables you to lift more weight and complete more total work in a given period of time compared to someone of a similar build with less muscle, which helps you to burn more overall calories.
For example, let’s say that 2 individuals are jogging alongside each other.
Person A weighs 160 lbs, and Person B weighs 200 lbs.
If they both jog at the same pace and cover the same amount of ground, the heavier individual will have to work harder due to the sheer fact that they are moving more total mass.
The mathematical formula for work is force x distance, and the formula for force is mass x acceleration (which is speed divided by time).
Since we stated that the total distance and speed are the same, that means the heavier individual has to exert more force to cover the same distance at the same speed as the lighter individual.
This increased total work done by the heavier individual ultimately translates to greater energy (calorie) expenditure.
Last, but not least, more muscle allows you to eat and store more carbohydrates (which ultimately helps you to train and recover faster). You see, muscle tissue is the biggest repository for glucose storage (glycogen) in the body. The more muscle you have and the more physical activity you do, the greater your glycogen storages will be.
At the end of the day, having more muscle enables you to do more work and train harder, which ultimately burns more calories and increases metabolic output.
It’s not simply having more muscle that increases your metabolism to any meaningful degree. The slight increase in resting metabolic rate between having more muscle or less isn’t enough to translate to huge changes in resting energy expenditure.
Plus, having more muscle helps you look better in (and out of) clothing, improves resiliency, and supports health, wellness, and longevity.
- Zurlo F, Larson K, Bogardus C, Ravussin E. Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure. J Clin Invest. 1990;86(5):1423‐1427. doi:10.1172/JCI114857
- Wang Z, Heshka S, Zhang K, Boozer CN, Heymsfield SB. Resting energy expenditure: systematic organization and critique of prediction methods. Obes Res. 2001;9(5):331‐336. doi:10.1038/oby.2001.42
- Elia, M. “Organ and Tissue Contribution to Metabolic Weight.” Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. Kinney, J.M., Tucker, H.N., eds. Raven Press, Ltd. 1999. New York: 61-79.
- Srikanthan P, Karlamangla AS. Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in older adults. Am J Med. 2014;127(6):547‐553. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.02.007