In the health and fitness industry, the word metabolism is thrown around like a hot potato. It seems if your metabolism is fast, you’ve hit the genetic lottery and are blessed with skinny jeans and good looks. If your metabolism is slow, then you’re not so lucky, and you might struggle with easy weight gain. The good news is, you have the power to manipulate your metabolism.
Before I wrote this, I feel like I had a pretty good understanding of how the metabolism works. After doing some research I think I’ve simplified it and made it really easy to understand.
In this article, I’m going to share with you what your metabolism is exactly, and some things you can do to rev it up, so you’re burning calories in your sleep (literally).
Many people don’t really understand the concept of metabolism and metabolic change. And it’s not their fault. There is a lot of information out there about metabolism and sometimes it can be like drinking from a firehose, and you just get overwhelmed. Sometimes the information isn’t exactly correct, or it might even be hard to understand.
Many people mistake their own weight fluctuations as a matter of metabolic change.
For example, there are scientific ways to drive up your metabolism and thus burn more calories, even if you’re just sitting on the couch.
Eating certain foods can increase your metabolism, but so can sitting in a sauna, at least on a perceived, temporary level.
Eating the right foods is a real, proven weight management method, whereas the sauna is only a short-term adjustment.
Metabolism is the process of transforming food into energy. The body then uses this energy to function. If you didn’t have a metabolism, then you would be a blob on the couch, unable to move.
Unconscious activities like circulating blood, breathing, transforming oxygen into carbon dioxide, getting rid of waste, and much more, all depend on a functioning metabolism.
That being said, your metabolism is either doing one of two things. That is anabolism or catabolism.
The first function is creating tissue and cells. Every second we have cells being created to replace dead or dysfunctional cells. So, if you cut your finger while peeling potatoes, the body will create skin cells to clot the blood and begin healing the cut. This cell creating process is a metabolic response and is called anabolism.
On the flip side of that coin, the body is also breaking down energy so that the body can do what it needs to do to stay alive.
For example, when you go for a morning run (like you should be), your body temperature rises as your heartbeat increases. As this occurs, your body requires more oxygen, to fuel your legs. This requires additional energy.
Your body will begin to convert food (e.g. calories) into energy. This process is call catabolism.
So, the metabolism is a constant process, where anabolism uses energy to create cells and catabolism, breaks down cells into energy.
Metabolism and Weight Loss
You can see how metabolism relates to weight loss ( catabolic metabolism, or breaking cells down and transforming them into energy).
To understand this process, even more, we can introduce the calorie.
Calories are simply units of measure. They measure energy. And when these calories go into the body, the body doesn’t really care where they came from. And this is important.
To the body, energy is energy. It takes whatever it gets. Similar to a garbage disposal, it takes it all down, no matter if it came from a cheeseburger or a rice cake. So, when the body receives a calorie – which is merely a label for energy, the body knows it must do something with that energy.
It can either metabolize it via anabolism or it metabolizes it via catabolism. So, it will either convert the energy (calories) into cells/tissue, or it will use that energy (calories) to break down cells.
When there is an excess of energy, and the body doesn’t use this energy to deal with functioning, it will be forced to create cells with that extra energy.
It doesn’t necessarily want to, but after seeing that the energy can’t be used, it has to turn it into cells through anabolism.
You can probably see where I”m going with this. Extra cells, is typically added weight.
The whole calorie/metabolism/weight gain is really just about excess energy.
When there are too many calories in the body (too much energy from food), then the body transforms those calories into fat (typically). If you’re a gym rat, then they can go towards building muscles, which is ideal.
Since muscles require calories to maintain themselves, people with strong muscle tone burn more calories. As a matter of fact, 10 pounds of muscle will burn 50 calories at rest. While 10 pounds of fat will only burn 20 calories at rest.
This is why exercising and building lean muscle are such an important part of boosting your metabolism. The more lean muscle you have, the more places excess calories can go before they are turned into fat.
Are Fat Cells Permanent?
Yes, most experts conceded that fat cells are here to stay. But this doesn’t mean you’re doomed if you have them. Because they do shrink. The number of fat cells in your body remains the same, but their appearance and percentage of your overall weight can be reduced. And this is a good thing.
So, for those looking to lose weight, it’s important to experience catabolism, where you’re converting food into energy that is used to break cells down. It also prevents the stockpiling of calories in the form of fat.
Remember, when the body has too many calories, regardless if they came from a Cupcake or a whole wheat sandwich, it can only do two things. It can see if the body needs energy, or it will store those calories as fat.
Strategies for Boosting Your Metabolism
There are three main ways to boost your metabolism, and you’ve heard of all three of them.
News flash, exercise is a part of boosting your metabolism and burning up calories. Granted there is a small sample of people who can seemingly eat whatever they want without gaining a pound. But if you’re not one of the lucky ones, exercise will give your body a kick when it comes to boosting your metabolism.
Before you close this article and drum up your new running program, understand that cardiovascular exercise is a good start, but not the whole picture. You might recall we discussed building lean muscle and how it burns more calories than fat. This is where resistance training comes in.
For some, particularly some women, the thought of taking on a weight lifting program will lead to being bulky. To be absolutely clear, this is not what will happen. Unless you’re going out of your way to intentionally bulk up, there is no need to be concerned.
In addition to a healthy and responsible cardiovascular program, muscle building is an exceptionally powerful way to boost your metabolism.
High Intensity Interval Training
As discussed above, the basics here are to engineer your body to require more energy by breaking down cells to deliver it. Interval training is simply adding a high-output component to your training on an interval basis.
For example, if you do a 30-minute run, you would sprint for 30 seconds and get your heart rate really going. And then you would slow down to a moderate jog, and then repeat.
This jolt or fluctuation is what tells your body to really break down cells quickly to provide the energy for the jolt, resulting in a quicker metabolism. The body will burn more calories.
If you suddenly decide to try and sprint for 30 minutes (just not feasible), but for argument sake, it would burn more calories, but your system wouldn’t receive the burst or jolt it needs to amp up your metabolism.
A slow steady run doesn’t amp up your metabolism the same way interval training does.
And 30 minutes isn’t the required time for interval training. Studies show that workouts as short as 10-15 minutes can provide benefits. To get the full benefits of high-intensity interval training, I would recommend a minimum of 20-30 minutes.
And, as always, don’t overdo it with interval training. You gain nothing if you go so hard that you injure yourself. Torn muscles or ligaments will only delay and derail any progress.
Mixing up your workouts is also a good idea. The human body is incredibly efficient and will always find the path of least resistance. If you’re doing the same workout week after week, your body will adapt and the workouts will become less effective.
Your body adapt to the same workout routine and it will become stronger and more efficient. Soon it won’t have to work as hard to provide you with the energy it needs. When this happens the catabolism will slow down and the fewer calories you’ll be burning.
Variety also makes exercise more interesting and stimulating. And since exercise is such a key factor in boosting your metabolism, it needs to be a way of life.
Any technique or tip that helps you continue exercising over the long-term is a wise piece of advice. So, mix it up so your body doesn’t get into a groove.
When we think of lifestyle we tend to think of the day to day habits that we do. Most of us live busy lives and it’s difficult to really keep an eye on all of our habits. Between work, family, friends, and commitments, it can sometimes feel like we have no choice in how we go about our day.
That being said, there are little things we can do to help speed up or metabolism. The little things that you can change can indeed have a profound influence on the speed of your metabolism. Thus helping you achieve your weight loss or body fat goals.
Yes, this is kind of the elephant in the room.
Drink all that you want…I’m just kidding.
Nobody wants to discuss limiting alcohol, but deep down inside we know that consuming alcohol is really undermining our efforts to boost metabolism. A bottle of beer or cocktail can deliver a few hundred calories. Three glasses of wine can be over 300 hundred calories that the body simply has to burn or store.
I’m not going to tell you to stop alcohol altogether. Simply, become aware that it influences your metabolism. If you drink in excess (even without becoming inebriated) you have to deal with the extra calories. And unless you’re exercising or burning those excess calories, they will be stored as fat.
Get More Sleep
People are busy, I get it. With work, family, education, housekeeping, and so many other tasks it’s difficult to get the proper amount of sleep. It’s no doubt that getting enough sleep actually improves metabolism.
On the other hand, if you’re consistently sleep-deprived, you don’t have the strength to break down food efficiently. This is unfortunate because many people can only find time to exercise by borrowing from their rest time.
It can easily be 9 pm before you get a chance to do anything outside of what’s needed for other commitments. Ultimately, it’s a question of balance.
If you have trouble sleeping or experience insomnia or other sleep disorders, there are a variety of tips to help you fall asleep:
- Don’t eat large meals 2 hours before bed
- Try drinking milk
- Eliminate blue-light
- Do yoga or meditate
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule, even during the weekend
- Write in a journal or read before bed
Experts are telling us that stress plays a role in a slower metabolism. When we’re stressed, the body releases stress hormones. These tell the body to create larger fat cells in the abdomen. Obviously, bigger and more fat cells are not what we want.
The goal here is to relax and chill out. There are many techniques that we can do to help remove or reduce our stress levels:
- Take a walk
- Listen to relaxing music
- Do yoga
- Consume less caffeine
- Read an informative book
Aunt Flow Time
Studies have demonstrated that the 2-week period prior to the onset of PMS is a timeframe in which fat burning capacity is at a premium. This is kind of ironic because, during this time, women don’t want to workout.
However, studies have shown that women are able to burn off as much as 30% more fat in the 2 weeks preceding PMS. They argue because this is when the female body’s production of estrogen and progesterone are at their highest. Since these hormones tell the body to use fat as a source of energy, exercising during this time can really help.
Yes, that dirty…dirty word! But I’m not talking about the act of dieting, I’m talking about changing what you eat, and eating to maintain a lean body. And to start this off, let’s discuss the ever-popular calorie.
Calories have become a negative word. Every time we visit the grocery store, you see “calorie-reduced” or “fewer calories.” As a society, we’ve become calorie-phobic, which isn’t all that wise. Yes, eating chocolate cake or calorie-rich foods constantly, will most likely lead to weight gain, but we do need calories to operate at full capacity.
If you suddenly decrease the number of calories that you need, your body won’t try to do more with less. Instead, it will only slow down the metabolism to match the decrease in calorie intake.
It’s a survival mechanism.
Your body will believe something is wrong, and it will become very stingy with energy. So, if your body needs 2,000 calories a day to survive, and you suddenly give it only 1,000, it won’t begin to burn off 1,000 calories worth cells.
Instead, it will slow down its metabolism. It will try to get as much energy out of those 1,000 calories because it doesn’t want to waste anything.
You should consume a daily caloric intake that is right for your body size, type, and weight loss goals.
As you’re tracking your calorie intake you should be considering what kind of nutritional value the food has too. Merely focusing on calories is only half the job. You need to ensure you’re eating enough protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, and other vitamins and minerals your body needs in order to function at optimal levels.
Protein and Healthy Carbs
Good lord there is a lot of food choices out there these days. Added to this confusion there are some foods that are beneficial for metabolic boosting. And some that aren’t so good.
In terms of protein, studies have shown that protein can increase your metabolism.
This is because protein is difficult to break down. And it requires more energy to do so.
As you know, when your body spends time on something, it spends energy. And so the more time it can spend breaking down protein, the more calories that it uses. For those that are trying to increase lean muscle, protein is crucial.
This doesn’t give you the okay to hit up some fast-food burgers for their high protein content. Those burgers are also loaded with high-fat content, and I’m not even talking about the fries or soda yet. Protein from fish, chicken, turkey, beans, dairy, and legumes are all great sources.
Carbohydrates are another evil word. The thing to remember is that when carbohydrates are refined, like white bread and white rice, they are referred to as high glycemic because they require spikes in insulin in order to be digested.
When insulin is released into the system, it promotes the storage of fat. Therefore the good kinds of carbohydrates to consume are those high in fiber and those from fruits and vegetables. These carbohydrates are low on the glycemic index and don’t require the spike in insulin.
The metabolism can be a finicky thing, but you can manipulate it. Between lifestyle changes, implementing an exercise routine, and watching what you eat, you can achieve your weight loss goals.