Metabolic Benefits of Exercise: How Building Muscle Can Help You Burn More Calories

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When it comes to the topic of weight loss, most people tend to fixate on shedding excess fat rather than focusing on building muscle. We yearn for leaner bodies, envisioning a future where fat stores vanish and we emerge with a slender physique. However, it’s time to unveil the truth: we tend to be under-muscled rather than over-fat.

In our quest for weight management, we often overlook the role of muscle mass in our metabolic health. Building muscle enhances strength and physical performance and ignites a cascade of metabolic benefits. Therefore, increasing our muscle mass can boost our body’s ability to burn fat and maintain a healthy weight.

In this article, we delve into the remarkable metabolic benefits of exercise and shed light on its profound impact on our overall metabolism. We’ll also explore how building muscle is the key to increased calorie burn and achieving long-term weight management success.


Fueling Your Calorie-burning Engine: Exploring the Metabolic Benefits of Exercise

The Science Behind Calorie Burning

Understanding Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Contrary to a widespread misconception, the total calorie intake does not solely determine the energy a person needs to burn to maintain a calorie balance.

Even at rest, our bodies continue to burn many calories. This energy expenditure is known as Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) and can contribute to at least 60% of our total calorie expenditure (TEE).

Surprisingly, physical activities only account for around 30% of TEE. In comparison, the remaining 10% is allocated to the energy required for digestion and absorption of food, a process referred to as diet-induced thermogenesis.

Understanding the significance of BMR/RMR sheds light on how our bodies constantly utilize energy, even during rest periods. This basal metabolic activity is essential for maintaining vital bodily functions such as breathing (5-10% of TEE), circulating blood (3-4%), regulating body temperature (5-10%), and supporting organ function (20-25%).


Exercise and Total Energy Expenditure (TEE)

Although we naturally burn a significant amount of energy as BMR/RMR, many individuals consume more calories than they need, especially when regular exercise is absent. This discrepancy from the ideal scenario where calorie intake matches BMR/RMR without physical activity can be attributed to various factors.

Oversized portions, prevalent in packaged foods, contribute to consuming more calories per meal. The abundance of high-calorie foods, often rich in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and refined carbohydrates, can be irresistible, leading to overconsumption.

Emotional eating and food cravings further disrupt calorie balance as individuals use food as a coping mechanism. Mindless eating, distractions while eating, social influences, and a lack of awareness regarding calorie content also contribute to excess calorie intake.

By incorporating exercise into daily routines, individuals can strive for a balance of energy, ensuring that calories in and out are aligned. This alignment determines whether a person can match their total calorie expenditure (TEE) with their daily calorie intake.


The Role of Muscle in Calorie Burning

Muscle and Fat: Energy Metabolism Differences


Muscle and fat tissues differ in energy metabolism, with muscle being more metabolically active than fat. As a result, even at rest, muscle burns more calories than fat.

One pound of fat burns roughly 2 calories per hour, while one pound of muscle burns 6 calories per hour. This discrepancy means that over 24 hours, one pound of muscle can burn around 96 more calories than one pound of fat.

This higher energy demand is because muscles are involved in various activities regarding the overall body functioning. Meanwhile, fat and muscle have different densities. So one pound of fat takes up more space in the body than one pound of muscle.


Afterburn Effect and Additional Calorie Burn

Muscles also play a role in a phenomenon known as the “afterburn effect,” or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

After exercise, the body continues to consume oxygen at an elevated rate to restore various physiological processes to their pre-exercise state. This recovery period can last from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise.

During the afterburn effect, muscles require additional energy to repair damaged tissues, replenish depleted glycogen stores (an immediate supply of glucose for muscle cells), remove metabolic byproducts such as lactate (also known as lactic acid, which causes muscle fatigue and soreness when builds up), and restore oxygen levels.

The EPOC effect contributes to additional calorie burn (6-15% of an exercise) because the body taps into stored energy sources, primarily fat, to meet the increased metabolic demands during recovery. The higher the intensity and duration of the exercise, the more pronounced the EPOC effect and subsequent calorie burn.


Building Muscle: The Key to Increasing Calorie Burn


One way to build muscle is through resistance training, which involves performing exercises against resistance, such as resistance bands. Resistance training not only strengthens existing muscle fibers but also stimulates the growth of new muscle tissue.

Another approach to building muscle is through muscle-building exercises specifically targeting muscle hypertrophy. These exercises typically involve higher repetitions and moderate to heavy weights, focusing on specific muscle groups.

Examples include squats, lunges, bench presses, and bicep curls. Incorporating these exercises into a comprehensive strength training program helps stimulate muscle growth, boost calorie burn, and improve overall body composition.

To engage in resistance training:

  • Start by selecting appropriate exercises that target major muscle groups.
  • Perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with a weight that challenges you while maintaining proper form.
  • Gradually increase the weight as you become stronger.
  • For muscle-building exercises, aim for higher repetitions (10-15) and focus on feeling the target muscle group working.
  • Use weights that provide sufficient resistance without sacrificing proper technique.
  • Prioritize rest and recovery to allow muscles to repair and grow stronger.


Muscle Vs. Cardio: Which for Calorie Burning

The debate between muscle-focused exercises (strength training) and cardio exercises (aerobic exercises) often arises regarding calorie burning. However, both types of exercise have unique benefits for metabolism and calorie expenditure.

Cardio exercises like running, cycling, or swimming are known for their ability to increase heart rate and cardiovascular fitness. Thus, these activities provide a higher calorie burn during the exercise session. Also, cardio exercises can enhance cardiovascular health, improve endurance, and support weight management.

Combining muscle-focused and cardio exercises in a well-rounded fitness routine is often recommended to maximize calorie burning.

This approach ensures the benefits of both types of exercise. Building muscle through strength training boosts metabolism and increases post-workout calorie burn, while cardio exercises provide a substantial calorie burn during the workout.


Other Metabolic Benefits of Exercise

Exercise offers a multitude of metabolic benefits that go beyond calorie burning. From improved insulin sensitivity to enhanced lipid metabolism, here are some advantages of workouts targeting muscle growth:

  • Improved insulin sensitivity: Regular exercise enhances the body’s sensitivity to insulin, helping regulate blood sugar levels and prevent insulin resistance.
  • Increased mitochondrial density: Exercise promotes the growth of mitochondria. More mitochondria mean improved energy production and metabolism.
  • Enhanced lipid metabolism: Exercise helps regulate lipid metabolism by increasing the utilization of fats as an energy source. This phenomenon can lead to improved fat oxidation and decreased stored body fat.
  • Reduced inflammation: Chronic inflammation is linked to metabolic disorders. Exercise has anti-inflammatory effects, reducing markers of inflammation and promoting a healthier metabolic profile.
  • Elevation of growth hormone levels: Certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), can stimulate growth hormones, supporting muscle growth, fat metabolism, and overall metabolic health.
  • Regulation of appetite hormones: Exercise can help regulate appetite hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin, influencing hunger and satiety. This regulation can aid in weight management by promoting better control over food intake.


Maximizing Calorie Burn Through Nutrition


Optimizing nutrition is essential for maximizing the metabolic benefits of exercise. The following strategies can enhance exercise-induced calorie burn through strategic dietary choices and the synergistic interplay between nutrition and exercise.

  • Pre-workout fuel: Consume a balanced meal or snack containing carbohydrates and moderate protein 1-2 hours before exercising to provide energy and support muscle maintenance.
  • Post-workout protein: Consume a protein-rich meal or snack within 1-2 hours after exercise to support muscle repair and growth. Include lean meats, eggs, dairy, or plant-based proteins.
  • Timing carbohydrates: If engaging in intense or long-duration workouts, include a serving of carbohydrates within 30 minutes to replenish glycogen stores and aid recovery. Options include fruits, whole grains, or sports drinks.
  • Don’t skip meals: Maintain regular meal patterns to fuel your body consistently. Skipping meals can lower metabolism and hinder calorie burn.
  • Optimal protein intake: Adequate daily protein supports muscle synthesis and increases calorie burn. Aim for 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  • Fiber for satiety: Include fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes to promote satiety and regulate appetite, preventing overeating.


Bottom Line: More Muscle, More Calories Burned

Incorporating physical activity and building muscle is a powerful combination for increasing calorie burn and reaping numerous metabolic benefits of exercise.

Remember, more muscle means a higher resting metabolic rate, leading to sustained calorie expenditure. You can unlock your body’s full metabolic potential by embracing resistance training, regular exercise, and staying active throughout the day.

So, let the desire for a stronger, leaner, and more vibrant self motivate you to take charge of your physical activity levels and embrace the transformative power of muscle for optimal metabolic health. Then, start and witness the incredible impact.



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If you have questions about the metabolic benefits of exercise or any health problems discussed here, contact us and learn more. 

At Peak Human, our team of healthcare professionals helps you reach your ‘peak’ health with a custom whole-person approach. Using the most cutting-edge, science-backed biohacking and aesthetic tools available today, we help you achieve the highest physical/cognitive performance state, improving your overall quality of life.

Don’t hesitate to contact us for questions or to book an appointment. Get personalized support and insight from expert physicians.



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