As I said here the reaction I most often hear in response to the Biggest Loser study is that they lost the weight the WRONG WAY. In that post I talked about the claim that they did it too quickly.
The next most common–that can’t be right!–response is to focus on the Biggest Loser’s exercise program. People say that the problem is that they did too much cardio and didn’t lift enough weights. They worried about pounds and not about lean body mass. For successful long term weight loss, so this story goes, you need to think about body composition. You can keep your metabolism revving by building muscle.
Now aesthetically speaking I’m a fan of muscle. Functionally too, muscles are cool. But sadly, according to Gretchen Reynolds, they aren’t the key to sustaining weight loss. Here’s her talking about muscles and metabolism in the Globe and Mail, answering questions about weight loss.
If you build muscle with exercise, including weightlifting, will you be able to maintain a higher metabolism?
Muscle burns more calories than fat, so it might stand to reason that the more muscle you have, the faster you will burn calories. But it turns out that building muscle has almost no effect on resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest. The reason is that any muscle you add is small compared with the total amount of skeletal muscle on your body. And most of the time that muscle is at rest. (You can’t go around flexing your biceps non-stop.) Muscles have a very low metabolic rate at rest. One researcher calculated that if a man weighing about 175 pounds lifts weights and puts on about 4.5 lbs of muscle – a typical amount for men who lift weights for 12 weeks – he will burn an extra 24 calories a day, the amount in a couple of Life Saver candies.