Mutations provide the variation that drives evolution, yet their effects on fitness remain poorly understood. Here we explore how mutations in the essential enzyme adenylate kinase (Adk) of Escherichia coli affect multiple phases of population growth. We introduce a biophysical fitness landscape for these phases, showing how they depend on molecular and cellular properties of Adk. We find that Adk catalytic capacity in the cell (the product of activity and abundance) is the major determinant of mutational fitness effects. We show that bacterial lag times are at a well-defined optimum with respect to Adk’s catalytic capacity, while exponential growth rates are only weakly affected by variation in Adk. Direct pairwise competitions between strains show how environmental conditions modulate the outcome of a competition where growth rates and lag times have a tradeoff, shedding light on the multidimensional nature of fitness and its importance in the evolutionary optimization of enzymes.