Back to Articles...


Increase your metabolism! Get Suckered!

Your BMR, or basil metabolic rate is the amount of calories per hour you burn while in a resting state. For a 77 kg (170 lb) person, the BMR will be about 77 calories per hour or 1700 calories per day (1700 calories to lie in bed all day). BMR accounts for 40 to 60% of the total calories burned in one day, the rest is burned off moving around, walking, and of course, exercise. A 170 lb. person who is active and does one hour of moderate exercise may require 2500 - 3000+ calories for the day. Lean muscle burns calories where fat mass requires so little energy it is usually considered statistically insignificant, so more muscle mass does mean a slightly higher BMR, but the higher BMR does not result in a caloric deficit or automatic fat loss.

Surprising to many; an overweight person will have a higher BMR than a lean person because their muscles have to work a little harder to carry the extra fat mass.

A common promise from some supplement companies is that you can increase your metabolism by taking a pill, and some fad diet companies claim to do the same by following their special eating regimen. So what does this mean? Since BMR is your resting energy expenditure, the lure is burning more fat while sitting around doing nothing with an increased resting metabolism as a result of taking a pill.

Can this be done? Not really. Green tea, an over-hyped supposed cure-all is dubiously claimed to increase human metabolism and therefore be effective at losing weight (burning fat). The kernel of truth in this bogus claim is that research does show that consuming green tea increases metabolism by 4%.

Let's do the math. BMR of 77 calories per hour + 4% = 80.08 calories per hour. - Yawn... let's see, an extra 3.08 calories per hour, 1 pound of fat has 3500 calories, so it would only take 1,136.36 hours to burn off one pound of fat drinking green tea, that is of course if the extra 3.08 calories per hour goes 100% to burning stored fat, which in reality it would not. 10 Hours of moderate aerobic exercise done over two weeks is enough to burn off 1 pound of fat. Hmm.. 10 hours compared to 1,136.36 hours to burn a pound of fat.. I wonder which one is more effective...

When investigated, all claims of increased metabolism arrive the same conclusion: it is impossible to "turn up" your resting metabolic rate enough to result in significant fat loss. The pushers of this claim are either shysters or extremely naive. You see, to increase your BMR enough to burn off extra fat (about a 40% increase in BMR is needed) your body temperature would also have to increase. In fact, with a resting BMR of over 100 calories per hour you would feel like you were in a sauna. There is no other physical possibility: BMR cannot be raised significantly without body temperature rising. Calories are a unit of heat energy. More calories burned per hour = more heat. That's why you sweat when you exercise.

Which activities increase BMR? Simply eating food, any food, increases BMR by 10 to 20% for up to four hours after eating. Digesting food requires energy. 10 to 20% of the calories we eat go towards the labor of digesting those calories. This is referred to as the thermic effect of food. The normal act of eating healthily increases your BMR more significantly than any supplement ever will, plus you get your nutrients and daily caloric requirements at the same time. The increase in BMR from eating and exercise is not considered "extra" caloric expenditure, it is part of normal daily metabolism and cannot cause fat loss. The focus for caloric deficit is from eating less and exercising more.

Exercise can easily increase your metabolism to 600% above your BMR - during exercise. Example: BMR of 77 calories per hour X 600% = 462 calories per hour - equivalent to a light to moderate jog or bicycle ride. After exercise BMR remains increased by 5 to 15% for about 1 hour. Well trained athletes who do intensive training have elevated BMR for 10 to 24 hours after exercise. Hard exercise can elevate metabolism by over 1000% above BMR - but again only during exercise. And of course exercise nets you all the additional benefits of increased fitness, fat loss, disease prevention etc.. Obviously there are no supplements that can compete with the total effects of eating healthy food and taking part in regular exercise. And no, the petite increase in BMR of 4% from some supplements is of no "additional" advantage if you live healthy AND down the goof-ball supplements.

Some fad exercise promoters try to entice people into their "special" exercise program by claiming that their special high intensity interval training will increase BMR by 10%, thus resulting in significant extra fat loss. Unfounded, and unscrupulous. It is a welcome side effect, the fact that your body keeps burning a few extra calories at rest in the hours following exercise, but this of course is not the purpose of exercise. Significant fat loss comes from the extra calories burned during exercise combined with consuming less calories.

An hour of moderate exercise may burn off between 300 and 800 calories for the moderately fit, more for athletes. The extra 50 to 70 calories expended over the 1 hour following exercise from increased BMR are real, but it is just plain dumb to focus on this very small contribution of calories burned. The focus needs to be on the exercise its self and on dietary intake.

Do the math; reducing your caloric intake by 200 - 300 calories per day plus burning off another 300 or so through exercise is clearly where the significant contribution to fat loss is going to occur - not in the extra 60 or so calories per day from increased BMR.

Another goofy training tactic that fad exercise promoters push hard is convincing people to gain large amounts of muscle mass fast because extra muscle burns extra fat at rest - the claimed benefit is that you can sit around doing nothing and burn fat if you have more muscle. Again, a severe misdirection from the where the focus should be. Claims that each pound of muscle will burn 30 to 70 calories per day to maintain its self are common.

170 lb lean male may have between 70 - 100 lb. of muscle. 70 - 100 x 70 is 4900 - 7000. No human on the planet weighing 170 lb. will have a BMR of 4900 - 7000 calories - or 3000 calories (100lb. muscle X 30 calories/ day). The average resting BMR for a 170 lb male will be 1700 calories. If our 170 lb male has 100 lb. of muscle that works out to about 17 calories per pound of muscle per day, but muscle is not the only tissue that uses energy, your brain uses about 500 calories per day, and your organs use energy to. Even though fat mass uses very little energy it still uses energy.

It is generally accepted that one pound of muscle burns between 5 and 15 calories per day depending on how active a person is. So where does the 30 to 70 calorie per pound of muscle reference come from? Perhaps people who don't know any better are confusing the rate of calories burned during exercise for calories burned during rest. - That's being polite. Most likely the reference is simply made up to make whatever it is they are selling sound more attractive. That tactic is called "the promise of hope", and it is the most widely used underhanded tactic in the diet and fitness business.

If you gain 10 pounds of muscle you may burn off another 150 or so calories per day. WOW! Sing me up, that sounds fantastic. But wait, there's more.. To sustain that muscle mass you have to eat more (150 calories more), canceling out what at first glance looks like a caloric deficit. Chances are the misanthrope that told you extra muscle burns more calories failed to tell you that this requires consuming more calories. Where do these people think the extra calories burned with extra muscle mass are coming from? The calorie fairy? Certainly not from fat alone as muscle does not burn fat exclusively; muscle requires protein, carbohydrate, and fats to function.

Did I mention that gaining 10 pounds of lean muscle mass requires about 1 year or more of very focussed, very challenging weight training? This training is too hard for a person just starting an exercise program.

Think about this; Have you ever seen a football player with extra fat mass? Of course. Does that football player also have a lot of muscle mass? Yes - HUGE muscles. So how can a person with so much calorie burning muscle mass be overweight? They shouldn't be according to the goofy claims I've been referring to here. The answer is simple: extra muscle does not mean fat loss. Burning more calories than consumed equals fat loss.

Over one year of diet and aerobic exercise you could lose an outstanding amount of body fat - the average successful fat loss is about 5 pounds per month - that's 60 pounds of fat lost in one year. Clearly if your goal is fat loss, diet and aerobic exercise is far more productive - and physically easier - that training your brains out for a year to gain several pounds of lean muscle for the ill-gotten purpose of sitting around doing nothing to burn fat. Of course lifting weights should be part of a healthy exercise routine and the calories burned weight lifting can contribute to fat loss - but not in the extreme way depicted by many "certified personal trainers".

Gaining lean muscle mass can be important for many people, but the reasons would be to increase strength, correct postural problems and for sports performance. It is a nice side effect that more muscle equals burning more calories, but keep in mind that to maintain extra muscle you have to eat more food, and the two most significant factors that influence fat loss are how much you eat and how much total exercise you do with a focus aerobic exercise. Don't be sidetracked by focussing on irrelevant variables.

This article ends the same way most do on this site; You want to be fit and healthy? You want to lose weight? Do what fit and lean people do: eat less exercise more. You want to lie to your self and get the sucker of the year award? Go for the supplements and fad exercises with the "get something for nothing" promise.


- Cris LaBossiere

2003-2006 Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2003 - 2006 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca