Due to scientific reports it is held that muscles have an important affect on fat burn, but would the rate be different to big, and to strong muscles? In other words, which type of muscle burn most fat at rest; not so strong, big, pumped-up muscle, or strong, smaller, compact, muscle?

"Muscle is active tissue that burns calories around the clock even as you sleep, kind of like an engine running in neutral. When you move around, you burn more calories, just like a car will consume more gas the faster you go. Fat, on the other hand, is just a storage of excess energy. It does nothing but sit there with its sole goal in life to be a spare tire around your waist until you put in the effort to burn it off" -- The Myth of Turning Fat Into Muscle - bodybuilding.com.

"I wouldn't consider myself big, compared to a lot of guys in the gym. Note, my college gym only has a few big guys, and a few strong guys. No one my size or smaller is strong as me, though, not to brag, it's just part of my question. My arms are touch over 16" flexed, I weigh 195 at 6'1". But, I would consider myself to be relatively strong, compared to guys who are bigger and more muscular than me. I'm wondering why this happens? How can I be significantly stronger, but smaller? I've been lifting weights for 2 years, I started the day after my cross country season ended when I was a senior in HS. I weighed 155 at the time, so I've gained 40 pounds since then, gaining a few percent in bodyfat. And how do these guys get huge without lifting as much weight as me?" -- Why are some guys big/weak and some small/strong? - elitefitness.com.

  • It is possible that the difference, explained above, could be due to the difference between isotonic and isometric training. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 0:38
  • Reading from a book called "Biomarkers", by Evans and Rosenberg; page 51: "... the subjects' leg strength improved over the course of the study. Leg muscle strength almost tripled and the size of their thigh muscles increased by more then 10 %." It was interesting to read that although strength tripled, size only increased by a tiny bit. Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 22:52
  • "Researchers found that although some fat loss did occur, it was generalized to the entire body, not the arm being exercised. Several other studies have resulted in similar findings, concluding that spot reduction is not effective for burning fat in specific areas of the body. However, a small number of studies have had conflicting results. One study in 10 people found fat loss was higher in areas close to contracting muscles. Another recent study including 16 women found that localized resistance training followed by 30 min of cycling resulted in increased fat loss in specific body areas." Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 12:17

1 Answer 1



Basal Metabolic Rate is the minimal rate of energy expenditure per unit time by endothermic animals at rest. Several BMR equations exist but the most notable one was the Harris-Benedict equation (revised 1984), which was created in 1919 and was the 'best' until 1990 until The Mifflin St Jeor Equation.

These equations use the same factors:

P   is total heat production at complete rest,
m   is mass (kg),
h   is height (cm), and
a   is age (years)

When investigation on the BRM of a pool of individuals was done there was a wide range of results for people who appeared to be similar. They realised these because formulas are based on body weight alone, which does not take into account the difference in metabolic activity between lean body mass and body fat they were getting variation in their results.

Below is a further breakdown of the BMR impact per-pound of different types of tissue.

Organ or tissue Daily metabolic rate

Fat 2 calories per pound 
Muscle 6 calories per pound 
Liver 91 calories per pound 
Brain 109 calories per pound 
Heart 200 calories per pound 
Kidneys 200 calories per pound 

One can conclude for 2 individuals of the same weight, and different BMR's that it is likely that their muscle/fat ratio is not equal.

An important point to note is that in all research all muscle mass is treated equally, biology dictates that muscle only has size and the ability for that muscle to be fully recruited to move weight is down to the adaptions that the muscle has gone through. Body builders utilise the principles of time-unter-tension to increase volume and to achieve this they often do not train for maximal lifts. The opposite is true for powerlifters and to a greater extent, strongmen who to train their bodies to perform maximal lifts and thus are 'stronger'.

The quote from elite fitness is just looking from a maximal lift percentage. If they looked at total power output they might see that bodybuilders have a higher total.

What 'burns fat faster'? Neither, muscle is muscle.

  • "Muscle is muscle" -- What accounts for the massive difference between "muscle" and "heart" in the cal/lb summary list?
    – Jason C
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 16:11
  • 1
    You correctly assert that the heart is a muscle. However, the heart is pumping constantly and so the 'at rest' calorie/lb consumption in the table will be higher than bicep muscle (truly) at rest where it is only just existing.
    – John
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 16:23
  • So you are saying that if two persons have the same amount of muscle mass they would burn the same amount of fat, although one of them is 3 times stronger than the other? This happened to me once. I met a guy who could lift 2-3 times what I could, although his muscle size was about as big as mine. Also, I had a look at your references and they don't seem to check out if there is a difference between big and strong muscles in fat burn. But maybe I missed something. If you would have found some original research about this I would have upvoted your answer. Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 1:46
  • That is exactly what I am saying. BRM is a well studied area and biology dictates the tautology I made at the end of my answer be correct.
    – John
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 7:47
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    @Constantthin - There is a difference between big and strong muscle. The bigger muscle will burn more calories. Strength (As JJ notes) is a function of activation, not size. If you look at google scholar, there are several studies that show age related decrease in BMR is directly attributed to decrease in muscle size. If person A has 100 lbs of muscle mass, and person B has 75 lbs of muscle mass, person A will have a higher BMR even if they both have 1 rep maximum lifts of the same weight.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 17:44

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