Published September 16, 2012
It’s seems like every fitness-expert wannabe has a website proclaiming he knows the secret way to turn your body into a fat-incinerating blast furnace.
Some myths about boosting metabolism are so prevalent that they’ve been repeated again and again via best-selling fitness books and popular magazines. You’ll hear personal trainers and nutrition counselors spew this information, as well.
Don’t believe it.
Here is a harsh, cold smack in the face for you: There are no secret tricks to boost metabolism.
Granted, we are talking about resting metabolism -- the calories you burn when you’re not active.
Getting active definitely revs things up temporarily, but thinking that all these other tricks you can employ are going to cause your body to burn a bunch of extra calories while you sleep or eat Cheetos or watch porn is a myth.
In reality, the act of getting in shape and, specifically, losing weight will cause your resting metabolism to go down. If you go from overweight, doughnut-scarfing couch potato to lean-and-mean workout warrior, the number of calories you burn at rest is going to drop significantly. Yes, even if you packed on a bunch of muscle.
This is because a lower body weight equals a lower resting metabolism. Also, when you consistently push your body hard with physical exercise, it gets used to it; it gets more efficient.
Not just at doing the exercise, but at any kind of activity. Even while watching Survivor or playing Halo, you’ll burn fewer calories.
Without further ado into additional time-wasting activities, here's part one of the most three most popular metabolism myths. We'll use actual real-science-type stuff to bust the hell out of them.
Myth: Adding muscle mass dramatically increases daily caloric burn
You may have heard that one pound of muscle will burn 50 calories a day just sitting doing nothing. If you gain 10 pounds of muscle, you would therefore gain an additional 500 calories per day metabolic boost just sitting around. Many people, including made-famous-by-Oprah and Dr. Oz have spread this information. But is it true?
In fact, according to internationally renowned obesity researcher Dr. Claude Bouchard, muscle has a relatively low resting metabolic rate. Dr. Bouchard told me in an interview that, on average, a pound of muscle will only burn an extra six calories per day, and that this is marginally better than what a pound of fat burns in a day, which is two calories.
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Bouchard told me that the vast majority of our RMR caloric burn comes from function of the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs.
“When you account for everything that isn’t skeletal muscle, it makes up about 75-80 percent of RMR, so skeletal muscle only accounts for 20-25 percent of resting metabolic rate.”
In other words, adding even a considerable amount of muscle isn’t going to do much to boost resting metabolism because skeletal muscle plays such a small role in the number of calories you burn each day while sitting around.
If we believe the 50-calories-per-pound-of-muscle myth, I should be burning another 1,000 calories a day because of the extra 20 pounds of muscle I’ve gained from weight training. I've run the numbers on my total daily energy expenditure, and I can tell you that it just isn't happening.
Again, I would love if it were true, because those extra 1,000 calories a day would taste really good, but it just drives home Bouchard’s point that this myth is a total crock.
How many calories can your body really burn without moving?
Let's use Bouchard’s numbers and do the math on what actually is happening. Since I started working out and changing my diet, I've lost about 50 pounds of fat and gained around 20 pounds of muscle (both of which took a long time and a lot of effort). The fat loss means I am burning 100 (50 x 2) fewer calories per day and the muscle gain means I am burning 120 (20 x 6) additional calories per day. Net increased caloric burn = 20 calories per day, or one-third of an Oreo cookie. Crud.
Don’t ever think I’m down on weightlifting, though. It’s awesome, and you absolutely should do it.
Weightlifting does burn calories (though not as much as sustained aerobic activity), and it has numerous other health benefits associated with it: Stronger, increased flexibility, injury prevention, improved physical function, and you get to be prettier from the neck down.
So do it, but just don’t expect it to be a miracle calorie burner.