Lift weights! Build muscle! Burn tons more calories! (right?)

A picture circulating on Pinterest and Facebook drew me out of my blogging hibernation. The picture shows a mound of fat next to a pile of muscle, claiming that 1 pound of fat burns 5 calories a day, while 1 pound of muscle burns 50 calories a day (and, by extrapolation, 5 pounds of fat burns 25 calories a day, compared to the 250 calories theoretically burned by 5 pounds of muscle). I am not going to include the picture here, as I don’t want to perpetuate the misinformation.

Yes, muscle does burn more calories over the course of a day than fat. But no one really knows for sure — yet — how many, and studies are showing the numbers aren’t as high as we originally thought. In fact, dating as far back as 2006 (which is eons ago, in the ever-changing world of fitness and nutrition!), one key study showed that muscle (at rest) burned only about 7 to 10 calories per pound per day, compared to the 2 or 3 calories per pound of day for fat.

I spent a good amount of time looking for the most recent studies into these numbers and they were all over the place. When in doubt, I always look to the experts, and the best article I could find was this one, which is where the above numbers come from.

But know this: if you lift weights with intensity in a well-designed program (not stopping to gab with friends or frequently check yourself out in the mirror), you can burn upwards of 300 calories in a 45-minute weight-training workout. I burn that many, even at my relatively petite size. Remember — the bigger you are, the more calories you burn just sitting there. And beyond the immediate calorie burn, you’re doing some amazing things for your health:

  • building metabolically active tissue that can help improve your body’s sensitivity to glucose (a great thing for long-term health!),
  • improving bone density,
  • reducing the signs and symptoms of chronic conditions including¬†arthritis, back pain, depression, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis,
  • boosting balance, agility, and mobility,
  • gaining strength, and
  • aesthetically, muscle takes up less room than fat — which means at the same weight but carrying more muscle, you can fit into smaller jeans.

So please join me in the weight room — but don’t be led to believe that suddenly you’ll pack on 5 pounds of muscle and burn the equivalent of a glazed donut every day.

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at