Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 Aug

How Many Calories Does Muscle Really Burn? (and Why It’s Not About Calories Anyway)

The hallowed halls of the Academy of Broscience contain untold tomes of knowledge, wisdom, and recipes for “sick” pump stacks. Over the years, their scholars have elucidated the arcane esoterica of muscle confusion, thereby making it palatable for the layman. They discovered that any gram of carbohydrate eaten after dusk turns immediately to fat, and that curling in the squat rack engages more muscle fibers than curling elsewhere. Their field researchers are reportedly close to confirming the existence of spot reduction. But perhaps their greatest contribution to modern physical culture has been the establishment of the unassailable fact that muscle burns fifty times more calories than fat, at fifty calories per pound per day. (Even Dr. Oz says it, so it must be true.) As they have so painstakingly shown, adding twenty pounds of muscle increases your resting metabolic rate by 1000 calories. With that kind of leeway, you could eat a delicious twenty egg-white microwaved omelet with low-fat cheese and a side of plain oats and never worry about body fat accumulation!

This, of course, is complete nonsense. Broscience is not even peer-reviewed and their application for accreditation is still in administrative limbo.

No, but seriously: the idea that muscle significantly boosts resting metabolic rate is pretty much nonsense. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like muscle. Love it, even. Nothing I like more than a bit of lean mass, but I don’t like how this notion of “muscle burning fat at rest” has taken hold in the collective psyche. It leads to lofty expectations that come thundering down to shatter to pieces. It gets people on a single, obsessive fitness track where all they want to do is lift, lift, and lift (and eat, eat, eat) some more to the exclusion of other, perhaps more enjoyable pursuits. And, it can even negatively impact one’s health or progress toward desired body composition, either via overtraining the heavy lifting and undertraining the other stuff, like sprints, walks, hikes, and simple play.

Anyway, I came across an article several months ago detailing the author’s discovery that muscles don’t actually burn that many more calories than body fat. He doesn’t cite any specific studies, but he does cite Claude Bouchard, an obesity researcher from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, who revealed that a pound of muscle, at rest, burns about six calories per day (and a pound of fat burns about two). That’s a far cry from the 50 calories per day figure “cited” by others. This number isn’t available in the abstract of some specific study. It’s drawn from extensive reading of the “biochemical and metabolic literature”. If you have literature to suggest otherwise I’m all ears. For the purposes of this post, though, I’ll take Claude at his word.

So, straight from the guy that studies this stuff for a living, muscle doesn’t burn a significant number of calories at rest. To illustrate the point let me quote the author of the LA Times article:

The 20 pounds of muscle I’ve gained through years of hard work equate to an added 120 calories to my RMR. Not insignificant, but substantially less than 1,000. However, I also engaged in a lot of aerobic activity and dietary restriction to lose 50 pounds of fat, which means I also lost 100 calories per day of RMR. So, post-physical transformation, my net caloric burn is only 20 calories higher per day, earning me one-third of an Oreo cookie. Bummer.

Or a single macadamia nut as the case may be. But that doesn’t mean having more muscle isn’t good for body composition and overall leanness, because it definitely is. Let’s look at some of the metabolic and other benefits of having more muscle mass.

Recent epidemiology (13,644 participating subjects) reveals that skeletal muscle mass strongly correlates with improved insulin sensitivity. With each 10% increase in skeletal muscle index (a measure of how much muscle is on one’s body), HOMA-IR (a measure of insulin resistance) saw a relative reduction of 11%. Folks with higher insulin sensitivity have better glucose control (carbs don’t destroy them) and lower rates of diabetes. Another study looked at the relationship between sarcopenia, or muscle wastage, and insulin resistance. There was a distinct relationship between sarcopenia and insulin resistance, independent of obesity, which can also exacerbate insulin resistance. So, based on epidemiology, a lack of muscle is linked to increased insulin resistance and poor glucose regulation. This should go without saying, but sarcopenia was also linked to obesity.

How does one get increased muscle mass? Why, by lifting heavy things. And what does lifting heavy things do to insulin sensitivity in addition to its effects on muscle mass? It improves it. To show this, a study placed older Hispanic adults with type 2 diabetes on a 16-week resistance training regimen and measured their baseline and post-treatment muscle mass and markers of insulin sensitivity. Folks in the strength training group got stronger, leaner, built more muscle mass, and developed more type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers. They also became more insulin sensitive. The increase in type 1 fibers, in fact, was strongly associated with the improvements in insulin sensitivity, as this graph shows. Note how the sedentary group didn’t do so hot in either department (increasing muscle mass or decreasing insulin resistance). That looks like a pretty strong link between increased muscle mass and insulin sensitivity to me.

Why is this important? Being insulin sensitive means you handle glucose well, which means less dietary glucose becomes body fat and less insulin is required to handle your business. This is far better than the idea of having a rumbling muscular engine idly burning calories as you watch TV, mostly because while the latter is a fun story to tell your bros at the gym, it’s not really true.

Having greater muscle mass also acts as metabolic reserve in times of trauma. I’m not talking about famine or starvation. I’m talking about car accidents, internal damage to organs, severe burns, cancer, sepsis, and catastrophic injury. A great review article (PDF) from five years ago summarizes the role skeletal muscle plays in recovery from and survival of trauma. In these unfortunate but very real instances, protein requirements shoot up to repair damage, and muscle protein breakdown increases. More muscle mass means you have more reserves to keep the amino acids flowing. When healing from burns, dietary protein needs increase to 3 grams per kg of bodyweight. If you can’t stomach that much or dietary protein isn’t available to you, it comes from existing muscle. And, if you don’t have much muscle to spare, you’re going to recover more slowly from severe burns. Same goes for cancer patients; those who have the greatest muscle mass tend to suffer fewer recurrences and live longer. Think of skeletal muscle mass as a buffer for hard times.

Finally, muscle looks good when attached to a human skeleton by tendons and covered with skin. And don’t we all want to look good naked, ultimately? Heck, I’d say this last one is enough reason to lift heavy things by itself.

Now that you’ve (hopefully) ceded the “idle muscle burns fat” idea, we need to go further. Let’s stop thinking of exercise and weight loss in mechanistic terms. Let’s not think of “burning” calories by subjecting our bodies to punishment. Sure, you could grind away and, with enough volume and intensity, “burn” off calories through sheer force of will. If your only concern is that you maintain low body fat, you could eat a bad diet and run fifteen miles a day. I did, and I was skinny. It “works.” But isn’t it much more freeing to realize that 80% of your body comp will come through proper diet, meaning you don’t have to grind on the treadmill and you can instead explore the joy of movement for its own sake? Isn’t it more elegant to imagine the hormonal cascade that heavy lifting jumpstarts and which gently nudges one’s physiology toward leanness and away from adiposity? Whether you see it as science, art, or a blend of both, the way we do things is more effective and enjoyable than hammering away at your fat stores.

Some may continue to hold their peace of mind ransom for those 500 calories of donut they just ate. That’s not me. While they’re waiting for “500 cal” to pop up on the elliptical’s readout, I’ll be eating real food, lifting heavy things, and appreciating the beauty of a complex physiological system allowed to do its thing. I suggest you do the same.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Damn, the dude on that picture is gross.

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • To each his/her own. Honestly that guy is not really much bigger than Mark probably has 20-40lbs on him depending on his height.

      Carlos wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • As I always say to those who comment on the looks of other people, it isn’t their job to look pretty for you.
      Body shaming isn’t productive.

      nushka wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • I think she was being sarcastic.

        Chris wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • In my experience, most guys like that who are disciples of Broscience, think very highly of their bodies, and have to comment critiquing on that of other, especially women.

          But these men are still overweight despite their time spent at the gym. That makes them gross despite their perceived athleticism, which considering how likely women are to hear such things on a daily basis, me should hear the general consensus, too.

          It’s not body shaming, it’s sharing a majority gender perspective.

          K wrote on October 13th, 2012
        • In my experience, most guys like that who are disciples of Broscience, think very highly of their bodies, and have to comment or critique on that of others, especially women.

          But these men are still overweight despite their time spent at the gym. Being overweight makes them gross despite their perceived athleticism (which is largely vanity, not concern for health). And considering how likely women are to hear such things on a daily basis, men should hear the general consensus, too.

          It’s not body shaming, it’s sharing a majority gender perspective.

          K wrote on October 13th, 2012
        • K, way to judge a book by the cover. Just cause a guy spends lots of time in the gym and cares about their appearance doesn’t make them a horrible person

          Wayne Atwell wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Well said. (Sigh) Needless negativity by some people is a shame

        Sam wrote on August 11th, 2011
      • Jesus, saying someone is ugly isn’t “body-shaming”. Where do these PC morons come from?

        Marissa wrote on August 11th, 2011
        • It’s not about being ‘PC’, it’s about basic respect for others.

          Why does anyone think they have the right to make a comment about another persons looks – be they a product of their genetics or their time in the gym?

          nushka wrote on August 11th, 2011
      • I think if it’s clip art, it’s not disrepectful to comment on looks/sexiness–sort of like, if a woman is participating in a wet t-shirt contest, men might express their views on her appearance, whereas they wouldn’t (shouldn’t) offer their opinions of a professional colleague’s body. Personally, I don’t think he’s good looking either. If someone is a model, it sometimes is their job to look pretty. In this case, his job is to show big muscles to illustrate the content of the post–and he does that well, I think.

        DThalman wrote on August 14th, 2011
        • On reflection I tend to agree with your comments. Clearly body snark is a bit of a red flag for me :)
          Our bodies/looks are one of the few things that total strangers feel they can say anything about and it annoys the utter hell out of me. He may not be mine, yours or the OP’s idea of attractive but he isn’t ‘gross’ either.

          nushka wrote on August 16th, 2011
    • Using this calorie counter you can find out how many calories you burn every day. Knowing this value will tell you how many calories you should in order to maintain weight, or how many calories you need to lose weight.
      To use this calculator, enter the values in the fields below and you will get the results

      alina wrote on August 11th, 2011
    • Haha!

      Brad wrote on August 11th, 2011
    • I think the man is handsome and the composition of the photo is quite lovely.

      Nancy wrote on August 12th, 2011
    • Get some lutein, Chick ! You done gone blind if you think that guy is gross…

      dotsyjmaher wrote on August 5th, 2012
  2. Or we could all just stop eating easily digested carbs in the first place. :)

    Johnc wrote on August 10th, 2011
  3. Great article. One question though:

    “When healing from burns, dietary protein needs increase to 3 grams per kg of bodyweight.”

    Does this include sunburns?

    chth wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • more than liklely like with other types of ‘burns’ it probably depends more on the severity/extent of the burn and how much totoal tissue trauma we’re talking about i.e. similar damage and trauma from an electrical burn vs. radiation (uv) vs. radiation (heat proximity) can all be classified using the ‘rule of nines’ this is how trauma centers get to the ‘first degree or second or third degree burns’ designation. healing/repair processes will most probably require similar amouns of aa (amino acids) for proper immune response and cellular turn over.

      m wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • Not quite. The Rule of Nines is used to calculate percentage of the surface of the body that has been burned. 2nd or 3rd degree refers to how deep the damage actually is.

        DocOne wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • What about my sideburns? They are pretty severe, oh man, I think I need to either trim or up my protein!

        Chris wrote on August 11th, 2011
        • I say up the protein:)

          chocolatechip69 wrote on August 23rd, 2011
    • Probably not most sunburns; they tend to be first-degree, which is only the top layer or two of skin.

      Now, if you’ve got a third-degree burn, that’s something else entirely. But most sunburns won’t fall into that category.

      Dana wrote on August 10th, 2011
  4. Totally agree – no idea where the rumor started.

    In the fitness industry people will say anything to sell one more treadmill, one more set of weights, one more gym membership. And the funny thing that happens is that people read that stuff, take it as gospel, and start telling other people the same thing without even checking.

    In fact, besides the myth that you need to do hours of long slow cardio every day to lose fat, I would say that the concept that muscle is wildly metabolic is the biggest myth out there.

    But as you elude to, it may not be true but it doesn’t mean that muscle is wildly important in other ways.

    BTW, Brad Pilon and Craig Ballantyne have also debunked this myth through similar stories as in your quote above from the author in the LA times.

    Primal Recipe wrote on August 10th, 2011
  5. I love the idea that diet can get you 80% of the way there – it is so freeing. Thanks for being that voice, Mark. :)

    Crunchy Pickle wrote on August 10th, 2011
  6. What about the time period (maybe 2-5 hours) after “lifting heavy things,” is resting metabolic rate boosted then?

    Doug wrote on August 10th, 2011
  7. Yo, Adrian…Wazup!?!?! I’m currently applying a minimalistic approach to fitness. It may not be the healthiest, but I’m hoping it will eliminate the fat (which is where I heard the toxins are stored) Minimum requirements for protein (lean body mass X .08) and carbs under 50 grams per day. Adding only required energy (in the form of quality fat) to perform “Moving frequently at a Slow Pace” five X’s a week; five basic primal moves at my determined level, and sprinting once every 10 days. That’s it! Share the results once I achieve my goal of 9% body fat. Thanks daddy Grok! Great stuff.

    Dasbutch wrote on August 10th, 2011
  8. Mark,

    Your articles sometimes seem like they veer way too far into the anti-collective-knowledge-for-contrariness-sake

    Look at your primary argument:

    “Anyway, I came across an article several months ago detailing the author’s discovery that muscles don’t actually burn that many more calories than body fat. He doesn’t cite any specific studies, but he does cite Claude Bouchard, an obesity researcher from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, who revealed that a pound of muscle, at rest, burns about six calories per day (and a pound of fat burns about two). That’s a far cry from the 50 calories per day figure “cited” by others. This number isn’t available in the abstract of some specific study. It’s drawn from extensive reading of the “biochemical and metabolic literature”. If you have literature to suggest otherwise I’m all ears. For the purposes of this post, though, I’ll take Claude at his word.”

    Do you know what this is? This is a simple appeal to authority. This is stating “I can’t find any other evidence, but this one guy the article cites seems to know what he’s talking about so I’ll trust him and by extension the article!”

    This is intellectually dishonest and biased, erroneous thinking! It weakens your stance and argument greatly! Please stop this sort of nonsense. You try and often succeced in making many good points with regard to lifestyle, exercise and nutrition. Please don’t build on these with false premises.

    The point may be true: a pound of muscle may only require 6 calories a day, at rest. It may not, because maybe this one researcher is flat out wrong. Or partially wrong! Or otherwise compromised. We don’t know.

    You can not genuinely win arguments against specious evidence with more specious evidence! That isn’t where the truth lies. It’s just more confusion and muddled information in a world full of it.

    Rob wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • While I agree he could’ve used more citations than just the one researcher, at least there actually are many researchers with similar findings. Google brings me…

      Elia, M. “Organ and Tissue Contribution to Metabolic Weight.” Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. Kinney, J.M., Tucker, H.N., eds. Raven Press, Ltd. 1999. New York: 61-79.

      Stiegler P, Cunliffe A. The role of diet and exercise for the maintenance of fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate during weight loss. Sports Medicine 2006; 36(3):239-262.

      … and, yeah, tired of Google searching now.

      Anyway, my take-home is that no matter what the particular figure is for RMR adjustments by muscle mass, everybody seems agreed that having more muscle mass is healthy for you in a variety of ways.

      What I mean is… the decision to strength train shouldn’t be based on one particular figure of calories per hour per pound of muscle.

      Jen wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • There was a study in ’02 that seemed to suggest that, but later studies proved it wrong and the thing that was happening was metabolism was raised after lifting weights, all the studies previous to ’05 or so were actually studying RMR right after weightlifting, and not studying RMR due to muscle.

        Even go to weight lifting sights like and you’ll see no one serious believes muscle greatly increases RMR since the later studies came out. It’s more about regular weight training, and eating right being worth 80% of the effort.

        plutosdad wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Hey, Rob,

      First, check out the LA Times article I cited:

      See this, too:

      The study appears to show that the often cited 50-60 calories per pound of muscle mass per day is vastly overstated. The study puts it closer to 13.

      See this:

      “Every 10-kg difference in lean mass translates to a difference in energy expenditure of ≈100 kcal/d, assuming a constant rate of protein turnover.”

      That’s 10 calories/kg or about 5 calories per pound.

      Mark Sisson wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • This will absolutely out of context but I take the opportunity of your answer to ask you this. If my Primal Diet is made only of conventionnaly grown or raised vegetables,fruits, meat, eggs, etc .. because my financial means doesn’t allow me to buy organic, pastured or grass fed is it worth continuing or should I just give up and go back to McD. ?

        Vince wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • You can get a whole cage-free chicken for $1.99 per pound(not pastured but still superior to conventional). That is about $8 for 4 servings of quality protein. Chicken thighs are only $2.99 per lb. I also get pastured bone-in pork shoulder steaks for $3.49 per pound. Marbled and delicious with some marrow if you’re lucky. Pastured ground beef (individually processed at point of sale) is $5.99 per pound. You can get plenty of quality meat without paying $25 per pound for pastured New York Strip steak.

          FoCo Girl wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • Noooo! Conventially raised real food is still better than SickDonald’s. As Mark says, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just eat as real and fresh as is practically possible. A meal of conventially produced eggs is better than an Egg Mcmuffin. Fast food takes conventially produced food and then makes it stale, adds a bunch of toxic waste, and glues it all together, often complete with a massive dose of salt and sugar. You’re better off eating the basic stuff before it gets adultered and polluted into something that not even mould wants to eat.


          Lately I’ve sometimes been asking myself this question when faced with choices between practicality and comfort: WWGD? (What would Grok do?)

          Animanarchy wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • Definitely worth continuing. You do what you can to move in the direction of your ideals, but there’s no reason to not do what you can.

          Think about it this way: if you couldn’t afford a gym membership, would you just instead do nothing ever? Of course not. There are lots of ways to get your exercise without a gym membership. You do the best you can until you can get to what you need to get to.

          Hal wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • Wow, FoCo Girl — where are you getting the goods for those prices? I must be paying 2x – 3x what you are.

          primalfunction wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • careful on them organic things, organic does not automatically mean healthier.

          In terms of nutritional value vegatables and fruits do not have a higher content of nutrients when raised organically. The confusion comes from the fact that fresh food contains more nutrients than older food. so if your buying it off a self in a big chain grocery store you might as well go with conventional.

          of course if your worried about the trace amounts of pesticide residue… wash your food before you eat it. your supposed to anyways but almost no one I know does.

          in terms of free ranged birds… all the information Ive seen points to them being much higher food safety hazards than conventionally grown ones, this is because they are exposed to any diesease or pathogens that near by bird, farmers, or a host of other things can transmit. there is a reason why there are large biosecurity areas located around chicken barns. Free ranged birds can also eat anything that happens to find its way into their cage. Ive seen a friends chicken eat a nut (a metal one) before just because it was there.

          now all of my experience with these foods is from a Canadian perspective. Canada has some of the highest food safety regulations in the world so if your in the states you could expect to encounter grow hormones in your chicken and other meats that we are not allowed to use

          William wrote on May 9th, 2012
      • Mark,

        This entirely sidesteps my concern about the integrity of the argument in the article: you expressly didn’t cite anything further than the LA times article which cites this one bloke who you trust.

        In response to my comment, you cite some other study which states the calorie consumption at 13.

        Then another which states it at around 5.

        The article says about 6.

        So, how many calories does muscle really burn? Do you have an actual answer? Your genuine answer sounds like it should be “It’s probably lower than 50 and here’s a bunch of research which supports that.” Blatant appeals to authority telling us it’s less, trust me because I trust some guy, do not count as science. Back it up, in the article, with more reasons, more research and less reflexive trust.

        Cognitive biases are quite a bugaboo.

        Rob wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • Exactly! About the only thing that I can legitimately take away from Marks premise for this piece is that: “muscle *may* not actually burn as much fat at rest, as conventional wisdom tells us. *Some* research tells us it might be as low as 5 or 6 and possibly as high as 13. More research is needed.”.

          Jason wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • Admittedly this article isn’t a comprehensive review of all of the existing literature on the topic, nor did I set out for it to be. It’s one of thousands of blog posts I write, day in, day out, that express my musings on a variety of topics relating to health and wellness. If you don’t like the cited LA Times article (a respected source of journalism) then feel free to dig deeper on your own (enjoy! After all, this site is primarily about getting people to take responsibility of their own health. I say it all the time, don’t take my word for it. Determine this stuff for yourself. I’m one voice among many.

          In any case I provided two supporting research studies as soon as you commented. Let me make an addendum to to my comment: the 13 calories cited is actually per kg, so that too gets you to about 6 cal/lb.

          Last, if you do simple arithmetic you’ll back into a similar figure. Muscle accounts for about 20-25% of total resting metabolism. For a 200 lb guy at 1700 calories per day that’s around 400 calories attributed to muscle. A 200 lb guy will have around 80 lbs or so of muscle. 400/80, 5 calories/lb. These figures are obviously loose approximations but illustrate my point.

          Mark Sisson wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • Mark, much as I love this site, I do also agree with Rob that this is not a very “well argued argument”….However, the conclusion is something I totally believe based on my own fight to reduce weight(ie: diet and HIIT works like magic)

          However, do you know of any scientific studies about how metabolic rate is affected by higher muscle mass when doing a particular activity. Basically, if a sedentary individual and a well-muscled individual were to lift the same amount of weights or run the same distance- who would expend more calories? I was thinking about this after reading your article and wouldn’t it make sense intuitively that the sleeker more efficient engine (ie: the fitter guy) would actually use less fuel for the same task- which would mean that the less fit guy would be getting more out of their workouts in terms of calories burned than the fitter guy? or is the opposite true ie: like some of the racing cars- the guy with more muscle would require more fuel. Do you know of any studies on this? Thanks and love your site.

          Rahul wrote on August 11th, 2011
      • can’t you just go by how you feel?

        Dasbutch wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • Mark – RE: “The study appears to show that the often cited 50-60 calories per pound of muscle mass per day is vastly overstated. The study puts it closer to 13.”
        That’s 13 kcal/kg, which is ~6 kcal/lb

        Bob Steinmetz wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • Oops, missed your follow up where you caught the mistake.

          Bob Steinmetz wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • The way that I interpreted what Mark said is that this Claude guy did a literature review. Literature reviews go through peer review process just like regular research. Sure Claudes conclusions should be more closely tested, but in the meantime I think it’s reasonable to accept them as a hypothesis.

      cTo wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • I’m inclined to agree with you Rob. When someone says “believe me because I believe someone else who quoted someone who seems legit” – i instantly become skeptical and it weakens their argument. Mark also seems like a knowkedgeable guy but im not about to tell people to believe him because he sounds like he knows what hes talking about. With more research and links to legitimate medical journals or papers, then maybe I’ll be able to abandon conventional wisdom. The other points raised are still worth considering and so this opinion piece still has some relevance for me. In the meantime I’ll have to do some of my own searches to see if I can find more support for these thoughts or more conclusive evidence the other way.

      Jason wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • – says the guy who shops in bulk for air duster to keep the ever building deposits of Cheetos dust for gumming up his keyboard and painfully slowing his favortie activity – Your comment was entirely pointless, other than to run your mouth and pose as something supposedly to resemble intelligent. The researcher he quoted specifically studies obesity, therefore, offering his view, that supports your own, and opposes the other side of an arguement simply makes sense. Also, instead of makeing the false arguement that “your arguement is not a good arguement, thereby making it false” why don’t you try and offer real scientfic data in opposition instead? Sniveling, snide comments are worth absolutely nothing except to your own feeble ego.

      Justin wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • The last comment was @ “Rob” btw… Also, Mark… I have to congradulate you. Despite the snotty condescending tone of that (expletive deleted) you still respond calm and collected, even offering more specfic information, nevermind that the recipient was clearly too dense to understand the basic nature of your post. I am ashamed to say (only a little) I would probably not have been so nice, correction, I wasn’t… Anyways, good post and glad to see that you actually do respond to comments unlike the over whelming majority.

        Justin wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Dishonesty is lying, committing fraud, obtaining the property of others under false pretenses, etc. – deceiving others into believing what you know is not true. Going by the available evidence, even if only one study, may not be definitive, but is is not deception. Moreover, Mark read the story, acknowledges it may not be the final word, but finding no glaring errors in it, uses the result to underscore the major gap between a completely unsubstantiated claim and the suggestive result of one study. It tees me off to have others attack the character of someone for what by any proper and rational standard amounts at worst to a simple mistake.

      Antonio wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Chill out dude. Mark is the man.

      David wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • Whoops I commented at the wrong spot.

        David wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • How about ” put a sock in it?!”

      I’m really getting sick of the “you cant give me citations so I can’t agree” crap.

      You can’t cite proof for the myth that Mark is addressing in the first place, so chill.

      I have named this the “haud testimonium” fallacy. This is when one tries to act like they are right simply by saying “you haven’t shown enough evidence.”

      DFH wrote on August 11th, 2011
    • Also, the premise was that muscle doesn’t really burn that much more than fat. But the study cited, if taken at face value, says that muscle burns three times more per pound than fat. If Mark cited a study about his diet being three times more ANYTHING than a carb-heavy diet, I bet he’d be painting those numbers as pretty favorably.

      JD wrote on August 12th, 2011
  9. I think this is likely one of the best first sentences of any post ever.

    Great post. Covers a lot of the stuff you need to be able to pull out when someone asks why you work out the way we do.

    Neil wrote on August 10th, 2011
  10. I guess I shall continue my primal living ways, right? Simple.

    I stepped on the scale at the YMCA in Chicago 2 days ago. I weighed 147 lbs. I weighed 147 lbs when I stepped on the same exact scale about 3 months ago.

    I’ve been lifting weekly and there is no doubt that I have gained muscle. I guess my stable weight confirms this.

    Awesome. Live primal folks!

    Primal Toad wrote on August 10th, 2011
  11. Hahaha!! That guy is ridic.. I agree @Peggy..He looks like he has been doing some G.T.L. Great article..I love these kind of “debunks”!

    Olivia wrote on August 10th, 2011
  12. Damn, I thought all broscience was true. Oh well. Seems crazy that people actually think each added pound of muscle could burn that many calories, it just doesn’t make sense.

    The Primal Warrior wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • It’s not so crazy when you really, really, really want it to be true.

      Primal Recipe wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Now I know the truth about the gazillion people in the work gym doing curls sitted, curls standing, preacher curls, dumbell curls alternating and many more: They are all Broscience acolytes!

      WildGrok wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • Okay, because that’s what all the people in the gym are do is it? Endless curls? Well I bet they all wish they could be more like you. Wild. I know I do.

        Mark wrote on August 11th, 2011
  13. Awesomeness. It may not be completely scientific, but it sheds light and can open eyes on how many differing opinions there are about muscle mass and body composition.
    My sister is the ultimate follower of CW. I’m definately emailing her this!

    Caleigh wrote on August 10th, 2011
  14. The fact that my general health is 80% controlled by diet is liberating. Being a former college athlete, I can very easily find myself in the state of mind that I can ‘exercise’ it off. If left unchecked, my workouts will slowly grow longer and longer. Since going Primal, I purposely take a week off of sprinting and lifting about every 8 weeks or so. The week off helps me maintain focus on my diet and gives my body a chance to rest a little extra. When the week is up, I am psyched to get back into my heavy lifts and I feel my workouts are re-energized because of it.

    Mike P. wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Where does that 80% come from? I’ve seen that mentioned in a lot of places but don’t remember coming across a reference.

      Mark D wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • The whole ‘exercise it off’ mentality is also a deliberately disseminated talking point from the food industry. That way people who are fat after consuming their horrible products can be blamed for just not getting out to jog enough.

      <>How hard is that fat people? Like, walk around the block or something and stop shoveling your gob so much. It’s not Adsanto or McWendyKing’s fault, stop blaming other people for YOUR immoral behavior.<>

      I despise this. These are the same people who demonize Atkins and Paleo, marginalizing it (remember the hit krispy kreamy donuts took when low carb went bigtime? they don’t want that to happen again)

      Tim wrote on August 10th, 2011
      • UGH, it killed my ad-hoc SARCASM tags.. that middle part was a sarcastic take on the nastiness people can spout after having internalized that talking point. Sorry.

        Tim wrote on August 10th, 2011
        • I got the sarcasm right away. I flove “McWendyKing’s”. I’m stealing it! Oh, and your point is spot on.

          Nancy wrote on August 12th, 2011
  15. It all sounds good to me. I know what works for me, and what doesn’t. Adjusting my diet and fitness routine to the Primal blueprint, is working. Thanks

    Mary Hone wrote on August 10th, 2011
  16. I totally agree Mark. I’m currently doing chemo treatments for Stage IV breast cancer and my doctor can’t understand why I recover so quickly and have so few side effects! I tell her, it’s because I eat primal and do crossfit on a regular basis (when I’m feeling up to it now). It definitely works! I can feel my body getting stronger and healing faster! Thanks for the great posts!

    Darlene wrote on August 10th, 2011
  17. I don’t subscribe to Mark’s diet philosophy but love his approach to fitness. I also love his blog, this being a good example. Years ago, I suggested through email to Mike Shermer, the skeptic, that he write a book on fitness mythology. Michael (a former Race across America finalist) was very open to an email discussion of his, then latest book, but didn’t want to approach fitness mythology. Perhaps Mark can fill the void of a reasonable, open minded book that de-bunks the silliness we hear every day in the gym, track or on the net.

    fit65 wrote on August 10th, 2011
  18. Another great post Mark, keep it up!

    Primal Newfie wrote on August 10th, 2011
  19. More exercise is more better used to be my mantra and it nearly destroyed me. Well not quite destroyed but I was miserable and though I did lose weight I never got the physique that I was seeking. You can never look better unless you eat better and no amount of exercise in the world can change that. Broscience from the gym rats is fun to listen to, thus the reason I haven’t stepped into a gym for well over a year.

    Chris Tamme wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Chris, don’t get so smug about the ‘gym rats’. It’s a bit patronising.

      Sounds like you are throwing the baby out with the bath water because you over did things in the gym last time out.

      Resistance training is still the best way to get lean, strong and healthy.

      Have you tried the gym and eating primal together. It works. Look at Mark Sisson. He’s at the gym 3 days a week doing resistance training.

      Mark wrote on August 11th, 2011
      • Chris said he doesn’t go to the gym not that he doesn’t do resistance training. You can do one without the other.

        Robin wrote on August 12th, 2011
  20. “Being insulin sensitive means you handle glucose well, which means less dietary glucose becomes body fat and less insulin is required to handle your business”

    hi, i liked the article, but how exactly does more glucose in your liver make it produce less fat from glucose?

    mark wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Have you heard of low glucose levels leading to high cortisol and adrenaline, adding more estrogen,inflammation and lower thyroid function?

      ruben wrote on August 10th, 2011
  21. Hear, hear. I went through a three month phase of constant work travel with not a lot of time to devote to physical activity, save for what I could do here and there in hotel gyms. Know what? Didn’t gain a pound.

    (Well, maybe I did. I don’t know, I don’t bother with weighing myself. But my clothes still fit perfectly and I still look good naked, so I’ll take it)

    I lost soooo much anxiety once I realized that diet choices could keep my body healthy even when I didn’t have time to run for hours a day. I used to get really stressed and anxious if I didn’t have time to train (recovering Ironman, over here). Once I figured out it was more about diet, life got nice and stress-free

    LizScott wrote on August 10th, 2011
  22. The notion of eating basically whatever you want and then burning it off in a later workout is completely true.

    Many of my friends eat conventional “healthy” foods, work out a ton, and are very in shape people. This shows the modern way of doing things can make you look good.

    This was the way I used to do things as well, meaning I was eating a ton of “healthy” foods and working out hard six days a week.

    The funny thing is now that I have switched to living a more primal lifestyle, I workout less (now doing more primal workouts), eat primally, and look and feel better than I ever have before.

    Sure it takes discipline, but when you see how much better you start feeling it makes you never want to go back to your old ways.

    By cutting my workouts down, I am always ready to go hard on my workout days, am never tired when going into a workout, and the best thing is I am stronger than I have ever been.

    When I compare what I do now and what I used to do, I kick myself for not knowing about the Primal Lifestyle sooner. It would have saved me from a lot of sickness, over training, injuries, and fatigue.

    I am a firm believer in this kind of lifestyle. If people are looking to get stronger, feel better, and look better this is the only way to go!

    Dennis wrote on August 10th, 2011
  23. My favorite thing about this is that you used the word “broscience.” :)

    Gabi Moskowitz wrote on August 10th, 2011
  24. Really? I think she’s cute. 😉

    Alan wrote on August 10th, 2011
  25. Whoops. Replied to wrong comment. lol

    Good post Mark!

    Alan wrote on August 10th, 2011
  26. Broscience? Really? What on earth is this world coming to?!

    It is interesting, though, to see how information can be misinformed and mislead. As long as it sounds plausable people are apt to believe anything that helps get them “the easy way out”.

    Bonnie wrote on August 10th, 2011
  27. Over the years, I’d hear people say that the reason your body goes into starvation mode if you skip a meal is because muscle is metabolically expensive. Like the person who lost his job and now has to cut spending, the body gets rid of it’s biggest expense, muscle. But it never made sense to me from an evolutionary perspective. Why would humans evolve in a way that makes muscle so costly? With food being scarce, you’d think the person who could retain muscle would be more favored. So wouldn’t that make it more likely that muscle isn’t a huge calorie burner? Once again, we see how so many myths take hold. I used to believe was a huge calorie burner. But rather than use that as a reason to gain muscle, it had the opposite effect. I told myself I didn’t want to eat a ton of food to gain and then be forced to eat a lot just to maintain those gains. Now I know it was just a bunch of bull.

    BigNoseDog wrote on August 10th, 2011
  28. How many calories does one lb of muscle burn? I have no idea…and no idea if Mark’s authority is a good one to rely on.

    One way of looking at is is to ask: Do those with a higher quantity of muscle mass tend to have a lower percentage of body fat?

    I would say this is not something that I have observed (rather that the opposite realtionship often seems to exist) which kind of gives the lie to the common myth Mark is keen to debunk.

    A thought-provoking article – thanks, Mark.

    Olly wrote on August 10th, 2011
  29. Pro Strongman Derek Poundstone claims he needs at least 8000 cal/day to maintain his muscles and Body Weight.

    Barney Shannon wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • I think this kind of athletes can not be use as a sample population, often time they are way to chemically enhanced to be compared to other people.

      ruben wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Derek Poundstone weights over 300lbs and trains several hours each day in addition to suspected growth enhancing drugs. All this added togther means that he needs such an enormous amount of calories to maintain his weight.

      EddieO wrote on August 11th, 2011
  30. The resting metabolic rate for muscle is about 3 times greater than for blubber. What this says is that a 5 lb gain or loss in muscle will cause a 15 lb loss or gain in fat for the same amount of Calories.

    To actually gain and maintain lots of muscle requires energy expenditures.

    Richard A. wrote on August 10th, 2011
  31. So, I won’t get big biceps by curling in the squat rack..WTF?

    DNACT wrote on August 10th, 2011
  32. Thanks to Mark for noting the concept of metabolic reserve. It occurred to me when I started gaining muscle that beyond getting stronger, I was storing up heaps of extra protein for repair and for fuel, to be used as necessary by the body in just the right amounts, and with minimal insulin.

    So I am very interested to learn about the protein requirements of burn healing, and I imagine that’s just the tip of the iceberg. No matter what challenge your body faces, whether trauma or daily wear and tear, it is vastly more advantageous when your body can provide for its own shifting nutritional needs without relying on the vicissitudes of food intake.

    So hooray for lifting heavy things! It’s not just for bros. Everybody benefits from building muscle: old men, women, even small children. And it’s fun!

    Timothy wrote on August 10th, 2011
  33. Nice post Mark, keep it up! Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle makes you more functional in Life. Skinny doesn’t mean healthy!
    Love it man!

    Jon Ham wrote on August 10th, 2011
  34. Broscience = Awesome

    I always thought muscle burned fat, or at least calories, but I never assumed it was a huge amount, and in fact based on my experience I agree wholeheartedly with this article.

    What I know to be true is that the more muscle mass I have, the more quickly and easily I recover from illness and injuries. What I also know to be true is that I don’t have to work out every day on a different muscle group to ensure I stay fit and strong…. two days a week of full body seems to be plenty for me!

    One thing I found interesting was that I had to take a month off because I injured my neck, upper back and rotator cuff (don’t ask me what I did lol) and I found that I really didn’t loose any of my definition or muscle mass; I lost some strength, but not a lot. My deduction was that it was because I continued to eat my high protein/fat/veggie diet and moved slowly for around an hour a day. Back in my high carb low protein days, I would have lost the majority of my definition in a month and been back to square one in strength. Of course I was not NEARLY as strong or defined back then as I am now.

    I have to admit that I don’t always do enough critical thinking when I read, but I do highly value life experience, especially my own, and being Primal has allowed me to be healthier and stronger than I have ever been in my life.

    Mary wrote on August 10th, 2011
  35. So true. Although I don’t always agree with what’s taught in academia, seems my professors got this right when they gave me an estimate of about seven calories per pound:

    There are a host of benefits to resistance training, but a lightning-fast metabolic rate ain’t one of ’em!

    Meaghan wrote on August 10th, 2011
  36. It is certainly easy to get caught-up thinking more muscle=alot more eating. As Mark says this ends up being detrimental.

    I can honestly say the best results Ive had with gaining lean muscle have been just eating good food, and not worrying about stuffing myself. This goes so against what is preached by nutrition professionals but I have found it to work effortessely.

    rrbarnes3 wrote on August 10th, 2011
  37. Good article Mark. After reading the sources posted in the comments 5-6 cals per day makes sense.

    But also don’t forget this is at rest. Typically those with increased muscle mass don’t sit around resting all day…they exercise that muscle through heavy lifting, walking, running, toe tapping, butt squeezes while sitting at your desk, or whatever you want; the muscle increases its caloric need, while the fat does not.

    Not that it results in 50 cals per pound per day, but it might result in 10 cals per day vs 5, which for a 185# male with 42% lean muscle mass, would equate to an extra 390 cals per day.

    Dave wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • Very good point that hasn’t really been addressed in all this. Muscle may not have an increased resting caloric requirement, but it will have a greater caloric requirement when active. Simply put, a 200 bro will expend much more energy than a 150 bro of the same BF % when doing the same exact physical activity.

      So while broscience may have oversimplified things, you will require incrementally more calories the more muscle you have because the same daily and exercise activities require more energy to perform (though you will do them with superior power!).

      Jeff wrote on August 10th, 2011
    • THANK YOU FOR MENTIONING THIS! Active metabolic rate was completely ignored in this article. Mark only talked about resting metabolic rates, but the majority of the people here are primal. We move a lot. So IMO, the broscience numbers take precedence over couch-potato numbers.

      Reiko wrote on August 15th, 2011
  38. Eloquent and uplifting post, Mark! Logical, as always. I am just so glad I found MDA.

    Lesley wrote on August 10th, 2011
  39. Well, I don’t know if I can ever give up donuts entirely (does it count if you eat someone elses?)… but I sure appreciate my heavy lifting and interval training sessions :)

    Sarah wrote on August 10th, 2011
  40. “Let’s stop thinking of exercise and weight loss in mechanistic terms. Let’s not think of “burning” calories by subjecting our bodies to punishment. ”

    I really liked this statement. I find that language shapes our understanding. In America we are fond of mechanical, sports and war metaphors – and we seem to use these in order to understand how the human body works. We “battle cancer” we “fight viruses” we “burn calories.”

    I wonder what language we should choose when talking about how the body works and how health is achieved. I think this would go a long way in helping us to better understand how it really works.

    meredith wrote on August 10th, 2011

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