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.


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Charles Lockhart
Charles Lockhart
10 years ago

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.
Alex H.
10 years ago

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.
Josh R.
10 years ago

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
10 years ago

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.
10 years ago

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
10 years ago

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
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

You said: “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.” You will absolutely NOT get more bang for your buck by being more active throughout the day (and people have jobs you know) than by weight training 2-3 times a week and packing on some decent lean mass. Jim, c’mon man. And what about that fat construction worker or mail carrier? and even if you did manage an additional hour of activity a day more than what… Read more »

Fred Hahn
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

“That statement makes no sense. Either 24-hour net activity energy expenditure increases, decreases, or stays the same.” Allow me to rephrase: When people become more active to lose weight, they often reduce the amount of other activity. If my kids run themselves ragged at a party, they come home and nap or sit and read. If they don’t party hearty, they usually want to ride a bike or expend energy. “When you focus solely on insulin and carbohydrate, yes, your viewpoint is overly simplistic, as fat metabolism is quite complicated and is affected by a myriad of factors that all… Read more »

Fred Hahn
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

I’ll respond in more detail later. But you are suggesting that a 270 pound body builder and I require only a 600 calorie a day difference and that is nonsense.

Fred Hahn
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

“I already referenced a study that showed a world class bodybuilder to have an RMR of 2,093 calories per day. However, this bodybuilder’s total daily energy expenditure was over 5,000 calories per day, meaning that’s how much he needed to eat just to maintain weight.”

The abstract does not state this body builders size.

Fred Hahn
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

“First, the study by Campbell et al. did not show an increase in muscle mass. The increase in FFM was due to an increase in body water. So Westcott can’t claim the increase in RMR was due to an increase in muscle because there was no increase in muscle!” Your grasping at straws there Jim. You just blogged on how unreliable attempts to measure body composition are didn’t you? Where does water reside in your body? Mainly in muscle tissue. If water increased more than likely this was due to an increase in muscle. Not only to suggest that the… Read more »

Fred Hahn
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

“Because of a reduction in insulin sensitivity, caused both by a reduction in energy intake and an increase in energy expenditure….not because of some magical effect of carbohydrate. It is well established that increases in insulin sensitivity causes decreases in fasting insulin levels.” Magical? Hardly. Decreasing carbohydrate intake increases insulin sensitivity as well. And once again, by lowering total energy intake you have also lowered total carbs and this insulin production from baseline. In fact, a paper such as this one: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/164/2/210 if it were a serious scientific paper, it would compare their own results to Feinman and Volek’s studies.… Read more »

Fred Hahn
10 years ago

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 »

Fred Hahn
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

First, I am not saying it’s 50 per pound. That’s ridiculous. It may very well be ~6 per pound of added muscle. But that’s beside the point. When you add 10 pounds of muscle your metabolic rate increases more than 60 calories Jim. Again, trained muscle is more metabolically active than untrained muscle. The Segal study is essentially useless for determining how much greater metabolic rate becomes after adding lean mass via resistance training. Fat tissue is metabolically active too as you know. Obese people will have higher metabolic rates due to their adiposity. And not all athletes weight train.… Read more »

Kristina
Kristina
10 years ago

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 »

ladybug
ladybug
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Thankyou for clearing that up. I started a muscle building program CLX and started dieting (1600c/day) at the same time. During the three month program I got a lot stronger. I also lost about 20pounds. I assumed I gained muscle because I was so much stronger, and throught the fat, I was able to feel muscle I had not felt before. But from what you say that is unlikely I gained much muscle since I was clearly in a calorie deficit. So would you say that my strength gains were largely due to improvements in neuromuscular efficiency? Also have a… Read more »

ladybug
ladybug
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Thankyou very much for the information. YAY for muscle! I have a suggested for a future article. I’m curious about calories burned during exercise and how they are impacted by body composition. Most HRM and other devices calculate calories ask you to imput, age, height, weight, and sex, and then use those with heart rate to calculate calories. If calorie counters were to be able to incorporate bodyfat levels, how would the results come out. Say two woman of same age, height, and weight but with different bodyfat levels did the same work volume…..how would calories compare? If if a… Read more »

Doux
Doux
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Could you link me to that paper? I’d really like to have a look.
How significant are the effects?

Doux
Doux
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Doux,Which paper are you referring to?  

The Paper where you said that being on a calorie deficit impairs protein synthesis. I’m really interested as I’ve never seen any difference between training under a deficit and I know some guys who advocate it. Are the effects significant?

Steve
10 years ago

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.

Toby @ Does P90X Work
9 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Also, what about the amount of weight you’re lifting. If there’s a difference between Low Weight/High Reps and Heavy Weight/Low Reps, then doesn’t this have to be taken into consideration. What I am referring to is the theory that your body will continue to burn fat long after your workout if you train heavy. Doesn’t this mean that your RMR will be much higher, therefore requiring more calories than if you trained lighter?

Ollie
Ollie
7 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Apologies to skip back to the beginning of the comments section. Steve,Excellent point. It’s pretty tough to build any significant amount of muscle when dieting.James Have you read the research from Martin Berkhan at http://www.leangains.com ? He references his work well and discusses articles regarding intermittent fasting. The structure of his “bulk while cutting” contributes to eating more than total energy expenditure on training days and consuming less on rest days. His theory states your body receives adequate nutrition when required but can use stored energy (fat) during rest. His results (reviews/phots from body builders) show good results. Many building… Read more »

Quetzalcoatl
Quetzalcoatl
7 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

I have to say this likely isn’t true, not only did I recently read a new article from some university (i’ll link it later if I can find it) that reduced or low carbohydrate diets do not prevent muscle mass gains. I personally have broken every rule of weightlifting thus far in the total of 2.5 months I’ve been lifting (though being new, I understand this may be unfair since my body will react to any training stimuli) however I lift both heavy and high weights. when targeting lats I do about 100 pounds (I myself an 139) at 12… Read more »

Markus
Markus
10 years ago

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

Markus
Markus
10 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Thanks for your reply, James.

What do you think about the calculation here:
http://www.awakeninghealth.com/index.asp?id=58

The estimation is about 47,000 calories per pound muscle.

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