Energy expenditure varies among people, independent of body size and composition, and persons with a "low" metabolic rate seem to be at higher risk of gaining weight. To assess the importance of skeletal muscle metabolism as a determinant of metabolic rate, 24-h energy expenditure, basal metabolic rate (BMR), and sleeping metabolic rate (SMR) were measured by indirect calorimetry in 14 subjects (7 males, 7 females; 30 +/- 6 yr [mean +/- SD]; 79.1 +/- 17.3 kg; 22 +/- 7% body fat), and compared to forearm oxygen uptake. Values of energy expenditure were adjusted for individual differences in fat-free mass, fat mass, age, and sex. Adjusted BMR and SMR, expressed as deviations from predicted values, correlated with forearm resting oxygen uptake (ml O2/liter forearm) (r = 0.72, P less than 0.005 and r = 0.53, P = 0.05, respectively). These findings suggest that differences in resting muscle metabolism account for part of the variance in metabolic rate among individuals and may play a role in the pathogenesis of obesity.