How Many Calories Does Muscle Really Burn?

Young woman exercising with dumbbells

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You've probably heard that muscle burns more calories than fat does—and that's true. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. While it's not the miracle fat-burner that many might hope it to be, strengthening muscle can help you lose weight.

Calorie Burn Per Pound of Muscle

There is a longstanding myth that says that if you put on 5 pounds of muscle (which is a challenge, even for young men), you could burn an extra 250 calories a day at rest (i.e., one pound of muscle burns 50 calories). The problem with these numbers is that there aren't any real studies to back them up.

Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, the American Council on Exercise's chief science officer, says that research suggests that a pound of muscle only burns about six to seven calories a day. Obviously, that's a big difference from 50. However, it is still three times more calories than are burned by a pound of fat.​

The confusion exists because different studies use different ways to test metabolic changes after exercise. There are other mechanisms involved in metabolism that also affect how many calories you burn—sex, age, fitness level, activity level, and more. Because of that, there's still plenty of controversy about how much exercise really influences metabolism.

Just like target heart rate zones or the number of calories you burn exercising aren't exact, neither is this.

The Power of Lifting Weights

Given this information, you might wonder whether you should continue strength training if you're trying to lose weight. The short answer is yes. You may not burn an extra 250 calories a day by putting on muscle, but you are still changing your metabolism.

Strength training is important for losing fat and for keeping your body strong and healthy. In fact, maintaining your muscle mass as well as gaining more lean tissue is often what keeps people from gaining weight as they get older. That's a powerful benefit. And there are others:

  • High-intensity strength training can actually help you burn extra calories for hours after your workout—what's known as afterburn.
  • Strength training prevents the loss of lean body mass that happens from dieting and/or aging. Weight gain often happens as your metabolism slows over time.
  • While strength training doesn't burn as many calories in one session as cardio exercise, it still contributes to your overall calorie expenditure.
  • It changes your body composition, which helps shape your body and keep you healthy.
  • It strengthens bones and connective tissue along with muscles.
  • It improves coordination and balance and may help prevent injuries.

A Word From Verywell

Strength training is important for almost any fitness goal, whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, or just get in better condition. Focusing on the process of getting your body stronger and fitter is often more motivating than worrying about how many calories you're burning.

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Article Sources

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