How Increased Muscle Mass Eats Fat
Introduction: Muscle and Fat
Developing muscle and losing fat are two of the most common health and fitness goals, but many people approach health and fitness with a mis-match between their goals and methods. Whilst many of us are aiming at developing a toned, lean physique by reducing bodyfat and restricting calories, this might not be the best approach for beginners, and can be counter-productive. Alternatively, increasing the amount of muscle mass is a great way to increase your ability to burn fat and develop a strong, healthy, lean physique.
It’s also important to understand that most people who want to develop a lean, aesthetically-pleasing physique will usually not have the necessary muscle mass when they reduce their bodyfat. If your physique goals include looking muscular and shapely, reducing your bodyfat is not likely to be enough if you’re starting your fitness journey. Athletic physiques are characterised by a mid to high amount of muscle mass and low bodyfat, whereas the average beginner will only look like a marathon runner if they don’t develop extra muscle.
Direct benefits: Muscle and Metabolism
The ability of more muscular individuals to lose fat more rapidly and easily is primarily the result of an increased basal metabolic rate. Basal metabolic rate is the number of calories that your body uses during the day to support basic processes like breathing, digestion and so forth. Muscle is at least 300% more metabolically-active than fat (per pound) and tends to have a greater total calorie demand when we compare all the fat and all the muscle in your body.
The main contribution of muscles to the metabolic rate is not necessarily their upkeep, however, but protein synthesis. The muscles contain anywhere between half and ¾ of all proteins in the body and make up 40% of body mass on average. Through this role in protein synthesis, the muscles contribute 20% of the body’s resting metabolic rate, with the majority of the remaining 80% being the result of vital organs like the kidneys, liver and brain – you can’t train these, however!
Whilst the development of muscle mass is not likely to result in an immediate change in the physical appearance and function of the body, research suggests that 4.5 pounds of muscle requires an additional 50 calories per day – this is not a huge number, but it adds up when we consider that this could mean 5lbs less fat per year as a result. This is especially poignant when we consider that an absolute beginner to weight training can expect to gain anywhere between 12 and 27 pounds in the first year of training, which can equate to anywhere between 100 and 300 calories per day after a single year.
Indirect: improved performance
Increased muscle mass doesn’t only play an important part on the resting metabolic rate of the body, but also has an essential role in the development of more metabolically demanding and efficient exercise. Increased muscle development has three main positive applications for improving fat loss: (1) Improved muscular endurance, (2) Increased strength, and (3) nervous system improvements and calorie use.
Muscle endurance and volume capacity
Increased muscle size and quality are linked to increases in muscular endurance and the ability to perform greater amounts of work over the same period of time. All things being equal, individuals with a more muscular physique will be able to perform more mechanical work than their counterparts. Similarly, the increased metabolic cost of muscle will be even more profound during exercise and recovery. Between these two factors, the ability to burn calories during a training session is significantly greater for those who are more muscular through their ability to perform more intense exercise and the overall calorie-cost of exercise.
Increased strength also indirectly improves the number of calories that are consumed passively after intense training. Recovery from strength training requires a greater deal of muscle protein synthesis, which in turn places a greater protein synthesis demand on the body. We’ve already seen that this process is a huge part of the body’s overall metabolic demand, and stronger athletes can cause greater and greater muscle degradation during training, meaning a greater ability to burn calories in the 24-48 hours after a hard workout.
Strength gains – and strength training in general – are effective at maintaining muscle mass whilst dieting. During a fat-loss diet, it is possible to lose considerable amounts of muscle if you’re not using them regularly. Strength training and increased muscle mass will combat this effect, making sure that your physique remains muscular as you become leaner.
Power and the nervous system
Power exercises are underrated for their ability to burn calories and induce serious weight loss in a relatively short space of time. The nervous system is one of the most metabolically-expensive parts of the body, with the brain and nerves relying on large amounts of carbohydrate-based energy. Power training – producing the greatest possible force in as short a time as possible – is a mixture of hard work from the muscles themselves and the nervous system. Bouts of power training will provide huge weight-loss benefits in a short space of time and high-intensity interval training has been shown to have superior fat loss benefits in certain circumstances.
A performance-based approach is a great way to approach fat loss and muscle gain is a huge part of this. Increased muscle will not only improve your ability to lose fat but also performance across a broad variety of markers for health and athletic performance. When we look at transforming the body there is an equal demand for greater muscle mass and reduced bodyfat, but as a novice or even moderately-trained beginner (anything less than around 2 years of training), the ability to do both at once is relatively easy. Gaining muscle will boost your entire experience: don’t be shy in the weight room and make sure that consistent, progressive strength training is part of your routine.