The Amount of Calories Muscles Burn

Young woman exercising with dumbbells

B2M Productions / Photographer's Choice RF / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

You've probably heard that muscle burns more calories than fat—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.

Does Muscle Burn Fat?

Muscle doesn't burn fat directly, but having more muscle mass means you burn more calories at the same body weight than if you had less muscle mass. Muscle is metabolically active tissue that requires energy to maintain, where as fat tissue is not. The act of building muscle by strength training increases your calorie burn to help you burn fat as well.

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.

In at least one discussion of caloric expenditure, researchers at the University of New Mexico explain that the metabolic rate of muscle tissue has been loosely estimate to range between 4.5 to 7.0 calorie per pound of body weight per day. Based on this fact, they estimate that muscle tissue contributes approximately 20% of your total daily calories burned versus 5% for fat tissue (for individuals with about 20% body fat). They add, however, that the combined energy expenditure of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, and liver is substantially more significant than the expenditure of fat and muscle tissue.

Recent studies that confirm these estimates are lacking. There is also confusion because different researchers 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 Improving other areas in your life such as mood, sleep, and cognitive function while decreasing anxiety and stress. In addition, you will be less at risk for diseases such a osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

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. Also, strength training aids with continued independence as we age. It helps us to do things we take for granted at a younger age such as walking, getting up from bed, cooking, and washing ourselves. These are just a few of strength training's powerful benefits.

Here's what else strength training can do:

  • Burns extra calories for up to 72 hours after your workout—what's known as afterburn. This is especially true with high-intensity strength training.
  • Changes your body composition, which helps shape your body and keep you healthy.
  • Improves coordination and balance and may help prevent injuries.
  • Prevents the loss of lean body mass that happens from weight loss and/or aging. Weight gain often happens as your metabolism slows over time.
  • Strengthens bones and connective tissue along with muscles.

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.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Can you boost your metabolism? U.S. National Library of Medicine.

  2. Kravitz, Len, Ph.D. Controversies in Metabolism. University of New Mexico.

  3. Metabolism and weight loss: how you burn calories. Mayo Clinic.

  4. Real-Life Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity. NIH National Institute on Aging.

  5. Hunter GR, Singh H, Carter SJ, Bryan DR, Fisher G. Sarcopenia and its implications for metabolic health. J Obes. 2019;2019:8031705. doi:10.1155/2019/8031705

  6. McColl P. 7 things to know about excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Ace Fitness.

  7. Sardeli AV, Komatsu TR, Mori MA, Gáspari AF, Chacon-mikahil MPT. Resistance training prevents muscle loss induced by caloric restriction in obese elderly individuals: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2018;10(4). doi:10.3390/nu10040423

  8. Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exerciseMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(7):1334-1359. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb

Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."