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Extra energy devoted to resource acquisition speeds metabolic rate, but reduces the net yield of energy. In direct competition, microbial strains with high rates of resource acquisition often outcompete strains with slower resource acquisition but higher yield, reducing the net output of the group. Here, I use mathematical models to analyse the genetic and demographic factors that tip the balance toward either rate or yield. My models clarify the widely discussed roles of kin selection and the spatial structure of populations. I also emphasize the strong effect of two previously ignored factors: demographic aspects of colony survival and reproduction strongly shape the design of metabolic rate and efficiency, and competitive mutants within long-lived colonies favour rate over yield, degrading the efficiency of the population.