There’s nothing like doing an intense workout to start off the day. However, there’s always that dreaded next day of having sore and aching muscles. It may feel like you’ve done a good workout but the soreness can leave you hobbling around for a day or two. But, can sore muscles be an indication that you’re burning fat? Or is it just your body’s way of punishing you for putting it through a workout?
You burn calories with sore muscles
Sore muscles can be a good indication of a good workout, that is, if you’ve made sure to warm up and cool down properly. It’s recommended you do both in order to minimize the aftermath of your workout the next day. Sore muscles do burn calories, however it may or may not come from the fat on your body. Also, please note that sore muscles do not burn calories any more than muscles that are not sore. Lean tissue (i.e. muscles) is the primary driver of our metabolic rate. And the ratio of our lean tissue to our fat is our body composition ratio.
Understanding body composition
Body composition is the ratio of lean tissue to adipose tissue. Lean tissue is muscle, organs, connective tissue, and bones. Adipose tissue is also known as fat. Your body composition influences your metabolic rate - or the number of calories you’re likely to burn every day.
How many calories we burn every day is influenced by 3 main factors.
- Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): 60-75% of daily caloric burn is related to our metabolic rate. To increase your metabolic rate you want to improve your body composition; to increase your lean tissue to fat tissue ratio.
- Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA): 10-30% of daily caloric burn is related to our activity level. Sedentary people only burn about 10% of daily calories through activity because they are sitting and not moving much. Active people and those that exercise will burn closer to 30% of their daily calories through activity.
- Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF): 10% of your daily calories are burned eating and digesting food. Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbs. That is why it is recommended to eat a high protein diet if you want to lose weight and increase lean tissue.
So what does this all mean, and how can you apply this to your life to get the body of your dreams? Well, here is an example.
You start to exercise and eat healthy whole foods. You do cardio, lift weights, and eat a clean, high protein diet. This leads you to build more muscle, being more active, and eating higher thermic effect foods. The result is that your metabolism increases because your body composition improves as your lean tissue increases and your fat tissue decreases. Your daily calories burned increases because of your increased activity level, higher resting metabolic rate, and improved diet. The entire process is linked and influenced by exercise and diet!
Do sore muscles burn fat?
But do sore muscles burn fat? When it comes to sore muscles, it’s the result of your workout causing damage to the muscle’s tissue and fiber. It is referred to as DOMS - delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS is common; especially when you first start working out. It is good to try and find ways to reduce it where you can, and the main thing to do this is to warm up and cool down properly. Also, as you get into a regular exercise schedule your muscles will adapt and the soreness will lessen over time.
But to answer the question - no, sore muscles do not burn fat directly. You burn calories both during your workout and after your workout. And sore muscles are just one indication that you exercised.
It’s worth remembering that burning calories is different than burning fat. Calories are energy and fat is stored excess energy. You accumulate fat on your body when you consume more calories than you burn daily. And the inverse is true when you are in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is when you burn more calories than you consume.
So, if you want to burn fat you need to exercise, eat clean, whole foods, eat a high protein diet, improve your body composition, and be in a slight calorie deficit. Then over time and with great discipline you will slowing change your body composition and achieve your goals.