The 50 Calorie Per Pound of Muscle Myth

I don't know how many times I've heard the saying, "You increase your metabolism by 50 calories for every pound of muscle you add to your body."

50 calories per pound????   Really????

Let's take a look at this.  I'm about 180 pounds.  When I first started weight lifting, I weighed about 135 pounds.  I've added a little bit of body fat since then, so let's be conservative and say I've gained 30 pounds of muscle since I started weight training.

If I've gained 30 pounds of muscle, that means that my metabolism should have increased by 50 x 30 = 1,500 calories.

I've had my resting metabolic rate (RMR) officially tested.  The last time it was measured, it was 1,671 calories per day.

Now, if my RMR increased by 1,500 calories since I first started weight training, then that would mean my RMR started out at only 171 calories per day.

That is completely impossible.  Nobody has a resting metabolic rate that low, unless you're dead.

Building muscle does not increase your metabolism by 50 calories per day.  The real number is only 6 calories per pound on average.

So my 30 pounds of extra muscle has increased my metabolism by about 180 calories...not 1,500.

Adding muscle doesn't boost your metabolism all that much.  Yes, it does a little bit, but you'll get more bang for your buck by simply being more active throughout the day.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying building muscle and strength training is not important.  It's extremely important.  It improves strength, it improves appearance, it improves function in activities of daily living, and it increases bone density.  You also get a nice elevation of your metabolism of about 50-100 calories for 24 hours after your workout.  My point is that building muscle is over-rated for permanently increasing your metabolism and energy expenditure.

The "50 calories per pound" number appears to be a case of communal reinforcement.  This is the process by which a claim becomes a strong belief through repeated assertion by members of a community.  Someone, somewhere, at one time proclaimed this 50 calorie per pound number.  Other people heard it, believed it, and started telling their friends.  It has now been repeated so often by so many people everywhere that people have accepted the number without question.  Then you get doctors and other respected health professionals quoting the number, and it becomes permanently entrenched in our beliefs.

The fact is, muscle does not boost your metabolism all that much.  Building muscle is important....just don't expect it to make you a calorie burning machine.


Get the latest science on muscle gain and fat loss every month

Keeping up with the research is tough, so let me do the work for you. Consider signing up for the Weightology Research Review. I cover 8 studies per month and break everything down for you, so you don't need a PhD to interpret the data. You also get access to an archive of nearly 300 video and written reviews, evidence-based guides, Q&A's, and more. Click here to learn more.

Want some sample content before you buy?

Get Instant Access to Free Research Reviews!

 

69
Leave a Reply

avatar
24 Comment threads
45 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
24 Comment authors
SherriJacquelin DorkaChaturbate HackQuetzalcoatlOllie Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Charles Lockhart
Guest
Charles Lockhart

Don’t know if you do requests, but I’d be interested on your take wrt how fast muscle can be gained. I’ve read books and articles with the same 50 calorie per day per pound of muscle, and they make it sound like you’re going to grow 5-10 pounds of lean muscle mass per month. It’s my understanding that the actual rate of lean muscle mass is much slower, but then my understanding is pretty limited.

Alex H.
Guest
Alex H.

I really appreciate the detail that Krieger puts into this blog. Gotta love the evidence. I especially appreciate how you point out Westcott’s errors. But Krieger, regarding Hahn, you’re debating with a person who still believes that the sun revolves around the earth and there is no way on earth (pun intended) that you can change this person’s mind, regardless of how high you stack the evidence refuting his archaic beliefs.

May I give a piece of advice to you, Mr. Krieger? Just drop it with Hahn. He’s really not worth the time or effort.

AH

Josh R.
Guest
Josh R.

Fred Hahn’s knowledge is limited to “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and probably a few of the low carb diet books out there. Every time he opens his mouth to debate people who actually know what the hell they are talking about, he makes a fool of himself. Krieger consistently has posted high-quality scientific literature to back up his claims, actually has a good amount of knowledge of biochemistry/physiology (at the graduate university level while Fred Hahn seemingly knows as much as I did when I was 15 years old after I read The Atkin’s Diet : Insulin/Carbohydrates= teh bad). Seriously,… Read more »

Mike T Nelson
Guest

Awesome! I love myth busting of broscience. Keep up the great work!
Thanks for the calorie increase post training too info. I had a hard time tracking that one down awhile back.
rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

Jordan D.
Guest

The fat construction worker just goes to show that you shouldn’t try to overcome excess calorie intake with increased activity levels. It doesn’t mean that higher activity levels are totally useless if calories are in check.

Fred Hahn
Guest

And remember, when using energy expenditure calculations for calories burned, you have to subtract the amount of calories you would have burned anyway in that same time frame you were active. When you do, it doesn’t add up to very much for most people who exercise regularly.

If you want to lose fat, tell your fat cells to open up and release its contents by eating low carb.

Fred Hahn
Guest

It’s not just the added mass – it’s the totality of trained muscle that causes the boosted metabolic rate. So yes – if you increase your lean mass by 10 pounds you will indeed increase your metabolic rate by ~300-400 cals a day. To suggest a 6 calorie increase per pound of added mass is to suggest that a 270 pound body builder who sports 100 pounds more lean mass than I do only requires an additional 600 cals a day. IOW, I need 2200 cals a day and the 270 pound body builder only needs 2800. They’d vanish and… Read more »

Kristina
Guest
Kristina

Like to add a note about people who are obese and trying to lose weight actually using gain of muscle weight as a reason the scale does not change for them. So question/calculation for you… At what point of muscle development COULD you attribute gain to muscle development? Is there a weight ratio (fat to muscle; total body weight to muscle) you must have to get a measurable difference? Not to mention the idea that simple weight training will contribute to significant increases in calorie expenditure… sitting on a bench doing curls with 10 pounds in each hand type stuff… Read more »

Steve
Guest

Not to mention that most people who believe such things are in the process of dieting. Thus they’re shortchanged on incoming energy. Even if the metabolic cost of muscle were 50 cals per pound… you’re not going to be adding appreciable amounts of it while you’re dieting.

Some?

Sure.

Loads?

Doubtful unless you’re using drugs.

Markus
Guest
Markus

Are you aware of how many calories were required to create your 30 pounds of muscle? This might change the picture quite a bit.

1 2 3