More on the mistakes the biggest losers make: But what about muscle?


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.

5 thoughts on “More on the mistakes the biggest losers make: But what about muscle?

  1. Also, in the paper published in Obesity they noted body composition at the end of the Biggest Loser competition. Nearly all the weight lost was fat and water, IIRC. I was able to access the article yesterday with no restrictions, which I thought was pretty cool. 🙂

  2. There has been so much interest in this biggest loser study and for good reason as it states what many of us have known for a long time. Some say it gives an excuse to stay fat…I think it gives an excuse to forgive ourselves for not trying hard enough not doing enough. The odds are stacked and the exception doesn’t prove the rule.

    For me, I don’t lift for my metabolism. I lift to feel badass and to have strong bones. Winning …tick, tick.

  3. You know, I absolutely love Gretchen Reynolds’ levelheaded scientific approach to writing about weight loss science. I wish all papers had a science writer as dedicated to digging into studies as she is! (I’ve been a big fan ever since Rethinking Thin.)

  4. I’m all for more muscle from a functional standpoint and also because we know that excess fat (especially in the midsection) is so dangerous for heart health.

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