Metabolic Muscle - A 'beef' about muscle with Dr. Gregory Ellis

May 03, 2006

There is a lot of controversy over how much higher your metabolism is raised by adding muscle to your body.

Some say a pound of muscle requires 100 calories, some say, 50, some say as low as 5.

Well, which is it? Truth is, no one knows exactly how many calories a single pound of muscle requires over the course of a day. In several different text books it is estimated that the muscular system accounts for ~20-40% of REE (resting energy expenditure). This doesn't bode well for muscle as a calorie burner - at rest.

Research by Dr. Westcott and several other experts in the field found that men and women who added between 5-10 pounds of muscle after 16 weeks of strength training increased their resting metabolic rate (RMR) by 200-300 calories a day, meaning, they needed to eat this many more calories to remain at the same weight.

Clearly then, there's more to the add muscle/calorie burning equation than just measuring muscle in a resting state.

It is also difficult to measure how many more calories adding 5 pounds of muscle will help you burn by being more active since you will feel more able to do more things for longer throughout the day. This along with possible increases in bone density and hormonal tone all caused by resistance training add to improvements in RMR.

Gregory Ellis PhD, a self proclaimed expert on human metabolism and diet (IOW,his books are all self published) claims a single pound of muscle uses only 5 calories. He states (seemingly everywhere he can) that adding muscle is useless for raising metabolic rate.

In an article/interview I read on line Dr. Ellis article by Art Carey Ellis apparently argues that if a pound of muscle required as much as 50 calories, a 200 pound man who has 80 pounds of muscle would require 4000 calories just from muscle alone, which accounts for roughly half of the total metabolic cost of the human body (brain, liver, kidney, etc. function make up for ~60% of human metabolism).

IOW, the 200 pound man would require ~10,000 calories - at rest - to remain at 200 pounds which he states is impossible.

I agree.

But let's use Dr. Ellis' number of 5 calories which he claims he figured from detailed and exacting metabolic testing.

80 pounds of muscle X 5 calories = 400 calories. If, as Dr. Ellis suggests, muscle is ~40% of the metabolic milieu, Dr. Ellis is suggesting that a 200 pound man only requires ~1100 calories at rest.

Don't think so. So it's certainly not 5 calories and certainly not 50.

A 200 pound man in reasonable shape, say 18% body fat, requires close to 3000 calories to keep status quo. If we use 20 calories as a number per pound of muscle we arrive at 1600 calories for muscle alone. 1600 calories X 2 = 3200 calories. A 200 pound man with 80 pounds of muscle can easily require between 3200 and 3600 calories to remain at 200 pounds depending on how much fat he has, how tall he is and how active he is.

Dr. Ellis also claims that women bodybuilders only have about 6 more pounds of muscle on their bodies than untrained women and that women bodybuilders who take anabolic steroids only have 8-10 pounds more.

This is a female bodybuilder:

Bodybuilder1 Bodybuilder_2 

If Dr. Ellis really thinks that this woman has only 6-10 pounds more muscle than my mom who has never lifted a weight in her life, he needs to get a new pair of spectacles or a better pair of skin fold calipers - or both.

And if he thinks that her metabolic rate is only 30 calories per day higher than grandma's, I shudder to think of the other advice he's giving out.

To be fair, Dr. Ellis does have a lot of good things to say about diet and about strength training in general.

All of you who are currently pumping iron to gain muscle in order to raise your metabolic rate, keep on pumping. Don't let the likes of Dr. Ellis and others of his ilk slow you down. There is much more to the metabolic equation than inactive muscle mass in a resting state.