Once I had a physical education teacher at the University tell me that he is experimenting with a theory. The theory is that muscle burns calories and that as muscle mass increases, the amount of calories burned during the whole day will increase, achieving weight loss. Is this claim true? I find it much easier to do weight-lifting than cardio.

  • You are mixing lots of stuff. Yes muscle is living tissue and consumes calories. More muscle more calories. You only lose weight if you burn more calories than you consume. That is separate from calories burned performing weight lifting versus cardio. – paparazzo Mar 18 '15 at 22:33

Yes, and there's more to consider than just muscle mass.

About 70% of a human's total energy expenditure is due to the basal life processes within the organs of the body (see table). About 20% of one's energy expenditure comes from physical activity and another 10% from thermogenesis, or digestion of food (postprandial thermogenesis).[6] All of these processes require an intake of oxygen along with coenzymes to provide energy for survival (usually from macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and expel carbon dioxide, due to processing by the Krebs cycle.

For the BMR, most of the energy is consumed in maintaining fluid levels in tissues through osmosis, and only about one-tenth is consumed for mechanical work, such as digestion, heartbeat, and breathing.[7]

Source: Wikipedia

The key thing to note is that RMR is essentially your total caloric expenditure if you were to lay around doing nothing all day. Add some activity and that number goes up.

As BMR and RMR only represent resting energy expenditure, an adjustment must be made to reflect your activity level. This is done by multiplying your BMR or RMR by an activity factor (McArdle et al 1996). Note that the following activity factors also take into account The Thermic Effect of Food:

Activity Factor

1.2 Sedentary - Little or no exercise and desk job

1.375 Lightly Active - Light exercise or sports 1-3 days a week

1.55 Moderately Active - Moderate exercise or sports 3-5 days a week

1.725 Very Active - Hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week4

1.9 Extremely Active - Hard daily exercise or sports and physical job

Source: CaloriesPerHour.com

Basically, multiply your BMR by one of the numbers above based on your usual activity level. The calories burned during exercise are actually less significant than most people believe because people don't know that they also need to adjust their RMR to their current activity level (Ie the calorie counters used on most machines to calculate calories burn only give part of the picture).

There are also other factors to consider. Such as type of exercise and energy required through recovery. For instance, while you'll burn more calories during an aerobic workout, your body will burn more energy overall from an anaerobic workout if you don't forget to include recovery (yes, it requires energy to recover from exercise). I would go into greater detail but I've already addressed those details with this answer.

If your final goal is to lose body fat, then there are a lot of other factors to consider. The most important being sleep (to balance hormones) and diet.

If you're looking to lose fat mass through increasing muscle, consider conditioning your body using increasingly difficult anaerobic cardio exercises first. That way your circulatory, respiratory, and increased anaerobic threshold will make the weight lifting much more effective and the recovery period much shorter. Build your body's ability to move resources to your muscles first before you starting demanding maximum effort from them.

In short, increased muscle mass will increase your body's caloric expenditure. But, don't narrow your focus to the point that you neglect the other contributing factors (nutrition, sleep, fitness).

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From everything I've seen this is true. Now, what happens when you have a higher lean mass is that your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) go up. That means you are burning more calories at rest. For the sake of argument, let's say you've added a lot of muscle and raised your BMR. The change might not be as much as you think.

When I got done losing a lot of weight, I had a BMR of about 2000 calories. I've since put on a lot of muscle. My new calculated BMR is roughly 2200 calories. While that's 200 more calories that I burn just breathing it's only a little bit more.

Cardio on the other hand can burn over 1000 calories an hour depending on how hard your heart is working, the type of exercise, etc. If you did an hour of cardio every other day, or even three times a week, you can burn more calories than you would after three months of lifting weights.

Of course, there's nothing to say that you can't do both either. Get both benefits...

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  • 2
    Your 1000 calories per hour assertion is a bit off. Going by the Mayo Clinic's figures (mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/SM00109) a 200lb man needs to run 8 miles to burn the 1000 calories per day with cardio. That's a lot of running. And three times per week? Unlikely. – Christopher Bibbs Jul 20 '11 at 20:32
  • Not necessarily. Nor did I say it was running per se. Every workout session I burn around 1000 calories, but I am mixing weightlifting and some form of cardio. Check out the list on the link you provided and you will find more than one exercise that provides 1000 calories per hour. Your rates may not be the average rates (Mayo clinic report). Work out with a heart rate monitor and you'll get closer to what burns calories for you. – Berin Loritsch Jul 21 '11 at 10:46
  • Again, for the 200lbs man only running and roller blading will typically do it. While a person can burn more calories by cardio, the same intensity and volume of strength training will put on enough muscle mass to be more beneficial if the goal is improved body composition. – Christopher Bibbs Jul 21 '11 at 15:37
  • The weight training portion of my workout currently accounts for about 500 Calories, but when I first started it was around 250. It takes time to build up to that kind of load. It doesn't take a lot of cardio to ensure that my workout burns a total of 1000 Calories or more. When I run, the machine tells me at the speed I'm running I'm burning over 1200 Calories/hour. While that may be just an estimation, it proves it is possible to burn over 1000 Calories per hour. Swimming is another good form of cardio. – Berin Loritsch Jul 21 '11 at 16:00
  • The main point I was trying to get across is that if you are most concerned about total Calories burned in a day, you can do a lot of damage with cardio. While the BMR improves with weightlifting, it's not to the degree most people expect. That's all. – Berin Loritsch Jul 21 '11 at 16:02

According to this study (http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/275/2/E249) our muscle tissue is responsible for about 22% of calories burned during rest (resting metabolic rate or RMR).

Now, if I assume a resting metabolic rate of 1700 calories per day - a number pretty close to the actual RMR's measured in the study...then the number of calories burned by the muscle tissue comes down to 0.22 * 1700 = about 374 calories.

And if we use the average muscle mass from the same study - where the participants packed on about 63 pounds / 29 kilograms of muscles (on average)..then we can assume this:

374 / 63 = about 6 calories burned per pound of muscle tissue (per day) or about 13 calories burned per kilogram of muscle tissue

I realize all this is an approximation, but I still think it's good enough to conclude that you'd have to put on quite a lot of muscle tissue just to get away with a single extra snickers bar per day. ;)

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  • I don't know if you linked the wrong study, but the one that you linked was merely a sampling cohort used to validate modeling predictions. There was no workout/weight gain. The difference in kg that you are seeing is simply the difference in weights in the subjects. Those are the points on the scatter plots, it's not an indication of gain over time. – JohnP Mar 18 '15 at 22:47
  • I think he interpreted the question as "once I have gained muscle, will I burn more calories?", not "does the process of gaining muscle burn more calories?" Which is a valid reading, I think, but it does boil the answer down to "a pound of muscle burns X calories." – Noumenon Mar 19 '15 at 4:20
  • I linked the study that provides science-backed data for my calculation...this is where I found the cca 1700 RMR in the study: "Models developed from estimated and measured variables were highly correlated, with no significant differences between those estimated and measured [e.g., calculated vs. measured REE: r = 0.92,P < 0.001; (mean ± SD) 6,962 ± 1,455 and 7,045 ± 1,450 kJ/day, respectively (P = not significant)" ...and this is where I found that cca 22% of those calories got burned by muscle tissue: "skeletal muscle was a smaller REE determinant in the 13 subjects (22.5 ± 3.4%)" – Rok Sprogar Mar 21 '15 at 8:53
  • so ok, maybe I misinterpreted the original question - only the OP can really tell us that - but I still don't think all that hard work I put in providing my answer deserves downvotes :) – Rok Sprogar Mar 21 '15 at 8:55

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