We hear that muscle mass added to the body can speed up basal metabolic rate. We hear that packing a few pounds of muscle on our frames can help us burn more calories throughout each day. This naturally equates to muscle having the ability to burn off potential stores of body fat. Yet the question remains: “How much fat does muscle burn?” For each pound of muscle gained – how many calories that would otherwise be converted to body fat are instead incinerated by striations of mitochondria?
Although I find myself addressing it, this seems a somewhat superfluous question. The way I see it, muscle mass added to the frame has value that far exceeds any need to know the exact calorie-burning potential that each additional pound of it possesses. Muscle mass adds power to the body. It gives the body youth, sex appeal, and contour where otherwise only the forms of body fat will give it the appearance of premature aging. We lose muscle steadily with age if we don’t replace it. Muscle mass is an elixir of youthful vitality.
And, unlike body fat, muscle mass is biologically active tissue. This means that acquiring more of it certainly will improve basal metabolic rate, as calories have to be burned simply to keep this additional tissue alive.
Yet the question for some remains: “How much fat does muscle burn?”
Actually, the exact number of calories burned per day by each additional pound of muscle added to the body has never been firmly established. That’s because research for doing so would be complex and costly.
That hasn’t stopped people from making guesses and estimates as to “how much fat does muscle burn.” On the high end, I’ve heard it suggested that each pound of muscle added burns 60 calories per day. On the low end, the skeptics estimate that each pound of muscle burns no more than 5 calories per day – a worthy amount if not extremely impressive.
Even if we take the low end estimate and multiply it by the number of pounds of muscle that most people need to gain to make a dramatic improvement in appearance, a worthwhile thermogenic effect is obtained. Let’s take 20 pounds of added muscle as an example. If we multiply 5 calories by the 20 pounds of added muscle, we get 100 calories burned per day. Multiply that by 365 days and we get 36,500 calories. If we then divide that number by 3,500 (the number of calories in a pound of fat), we get 10.4 pounds of potential body fat burned annually by 20 pounds of muscle.
Of course, the high end estimate in the question of “how much fat does muscle burn” is really sweet. Sixty calories per day burned by each additional pound of muscle will give us a whopping 600 calories burned each day by a mere ten pounds of added muscle. Multiply that by 365 and we get 219,000 calories burned for the year. Divide that by the calories in each pound of fat and we get 62.6 pounds of potential fat burned annually by ten pounds of muscle.
That DOES sound high. Common sense tells me that ten pounds of muscle won’t nullify the caloric effects of a 600 calorie meal each day.
So what’s my opinion on the “how much fat does muscle burn” question? I think the truth lies somewhere around double the low-end estimate and a third of the high end one. That’s a guess based on my personal experience with increased metabolism that comes with increased muscle mass, along with discussions I’ve had with other muscle builders I’ve known over the years.
Regardless of ‘how much fat does muscle burn’, possessing a respectable, or even impressive, amount of muscle mass can give one the incentive – even great motivation – to lose body fat. Shedding fat and having strong and shapely muscle to show for it is far better than getting lean to reveal not much more than a skeletal frame.
If five or ten pounds of potential body fat are incinerated over time by that muscle – all the better.