The word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days. I’m sure you’ve heard that if yours is too slow you can gain weight.
But what exactly does this mean?
Well technically “metabolism” is the term to describe all of the biochemical reactions in your body. It’s how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do – even the things going on in the background like thinking and digesting your food.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and stay alive. And without this amazing biochemistry, humans probably would not have lasted long on the planet.
Metabolism includes how the cells in your body:
- Allow activities you can control (e.g. physical activity etc.).
- Allow activities you can’t control (e.g. heart beat, wound healing, processing of nutrients & toxins, etc.).
- Allow storage of excess energy for later.
So when you put all of these processes together, it’s no secret that they can be “off” for one reason or another, resulting in a metabolism that is too slow or too fast.
Which brings us to the “metabolic rate”.
Metabolic rate is simply how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, those calories!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
- Work (i.e. exercise and other activity).
- Heat (i.e. from all those biochemical reactions).
- Storage (i.e. extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat).
As you can imagine the more calories you burn, the easier it is to lose and maintain weight because there will be fewer “excess” calories to store for later.
Metabolic rate has several components, but one is the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you’re not being physically active. Your RMR has a lot to do with internal processes and, to a large extent, is something you may not have a large amount of control over.
Another aspect of metabolic rate is the “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for “work” (e.g. exercise, fidgeting, walking to your car, chasing the kids) throughout a 24-hour period. You do have control over the TDEE by choosing activities throughout the day that add to the overall energy burn.
What affects your metabolic rate?
Well, if you have a few days to learn it all…… KIDDING! But, in all seriousness – there is a lot that goes into metabolism.
The first thing you may think of is your thyroid. This gland at the front of your throat releases hormones to tell your body to “speed up” your metabolism. Of course, the more thyroid hormone there is the faster things will work and the more calories you’ll burn at rest.
Larger people have higher metabolic rates. That only makes sense, right? Think about it, an NFL linebacker is going to have different energy (food) requirements than a jockey.
Pop Quiz: What is more metabolically active – muscle or fat?
Obviously – muscle! So the more muscle mass you have, the more energy your body can burn and the higher your metabolic potential. Even when you’re not working out. This is exactly why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want muscles to be burning those calories for you, even at REST.
You’ve heard of passive income, right? Well, this is like passive metabolism!
With weight loss the metabolic rate often takes a dive. While this is natural, we want to minimize this as much as possible. One way to offset that is by working hard to put on more muscle mass. Aerobic exercise also temporarily increases your metabolic rate because your muscles are burning fuel to move
Your body actually burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermogenic effect of food” (TEF). You can use it to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes foods differently.
Fats, for example increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbs increase it by 5-10%, and protein increases it by 15-30%. By trading some of your fat or carbs for lean protein you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
But hold on! Don’t go thinking these increases can substitute for the moving and activity you should be doing. They are but one small part of the big picture.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. By working them out and feeding them what they need they will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
Don’t forget the mind-body connection. Plenty of research exists that shows the influence things like stress and sleep have on your metabolic rate. While these things affect the metabolism indirectly by altering many of the body’s hormonal processes, they can make quite a difference!
Metabolism can change
Understanding metabolism is like parenting a toddler – the second you think you have it figured out, something changes and what you thought was working…. suddenly doesn’t. We age, have illness, have babies, work nights, etc…. Our lives change and so does our body’s response to that change.
Aside from obtaining you Ph.D in metabolism physiology, the best thing you can do is make sure you are fueling yourself with appropriate, whole foods and stay as active as you can. Strength training and flexibility are two important keys to longevity and being able to stay active as you age.
You can learn more about dealing with your changing metabolism in my new ebook coming out in October! Click here to find out more or to be notified when the ebook is available.
Recipe (Lean Protein): Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken Breasts
2 lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon thyme
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
dash salt & pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive old
Preheat oven to 425F. Layer ½ of the lemon slices on the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkle with ½ of the herbs and ½ of the sliced garlic.
Place the chicken breasts on top and sprinkle salt & pepper. Place remaining lemon, herbs and garlic on top of the chicken. Drizzle with olive oil. Cover with a lid or foil.
Bake for 45 minutes until chicken is cooked through. If you want the chicken to be a bit more “roasty” then remove the lid/foil and broil for another few minutes (watching carefully not to burn it).
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can add a leftover sliced chicken breast to your salad for lunch the next day!
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