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I heard on a podcast that pounds of fat burn calories at a different rate than pounds of muscle. The thinking is that a pound of fat, sitting idly over the course of the day, requires X calories, whereas a pound of muscle, sitting idly over the course of the day (that is to say, without being vigorously exercised) requires X+Y calories, because muscle is "more expensive" for your body to maintain, nutritionally speaking. That would seem to imply that if one were to undertake a workout regimen designed to build muscles (lots of strength training, minimal focus on cardiovascular activities) that the additional muscle mass would result in the body burning more calories per day while it was in its "at rest" state. That would seem to imply that one would then be able to lose some of their fat weight, as they would now have a more favorable ratio of caloric intake to caloric expenditure.

Is this a healthful approach to weight loss? If someone were in a situation where they were overweight (but not yet obese) is strength-training a logical approach to achieving a higher fitness level?

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3 Answers 3

This is absolutely a good approach. You get to build up some muscle, and you don't damage your metabolism the way you would with severe calorie restriction.

I think it is worth doing a little myth-busting. A pound of muscle will burn more calories per day, but only about 6 more calories and you'll likely eat a little more to compensate. However, the correlation to fat loss is very real, which I think debunks the oft-quoted but over-simplified "calories in minus calories out" approach, and a couple possible explanations are:

  • A larger percentage of food eaten goes to repairing and further building your muscles and other supporting systems such as skeletal and even cardiovascular instead of being stored as excess energy (fat).
  • Extra muscle, and in particular the process of building extra muscle, tends to put the body into a favorable hormonal state for fat loss.
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It's a great approach and one that I follow and would recommend. Free weight training, done correctly (don't overdue it and hurt yourself) is the best for weight lose and overall physical (and mental) improvement.

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What you describe is a good way to increase muscle mass. In theory, it should also result in lower fat. However, in practice it's likely that the incremental amount of fat you will lose this way might not be material if you don't also follow some kind of diet / feeding habits change. But it's an indispensable component of an overall body recomposition strategy.

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