I bet you’ve thought about your metabolism a few times over the years, haven’t you? Almost every person who is focused on exercise, fitness, nutrition and just feeling great has some interest in how well their metabolism is performing. As fit, strong and healthy people, we worry about how fast our metabolism is because we know that this is what helps us burn fat and keep off excess weight.
But, do you really know your metabolism?
Simply put, your metabolism is all the biochemical reactions taking place in your body – these biochemical processes include organs’ use of nutrients, cells’ use of oxygen, lungs’ use of air and everything else going on inside of us.
All of these reactions make you who you are – your body is able to grow, heal and stay alive all because of your metabolism!
Your metabolism is important because it helps you:
- Maintain physical activity and other conscious movements
- Ensure unconscious activities keep on happening, like heartbeats and digestion
- Manage storage of fuel (fat) for later when your energy sources are low
Your metabolic rate is really just how efficient the metabolism is at keeping up with everything that your body needs to happen. It’s your metabolic rate that influences how quickly you burn calories from food and how much (or how little) fuel is stored as fat for later. When you eat, the calories 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)
So, if your body is able to burn more calories through ‘work’ or ‘heat’, you will be able to lose weight and keep it off much easier because fewer calories will go into ‘storage’.
You can measure your own metabolic rate by calculating ‘resting metabolic rate’ or your ‘total daily energy expenditure’. The RMR (also known as ‘basal metabolic rate’ or BMR) is how much energy is used just to keep you alive when you’re in a resting state. The TDEE measures how much energy you’re using to stay alive through all your daily activities. Your metabolic rate is affected by a ton of things, too!
Most people think their thyroid affects their metabolism and they’re right, partially! This gland at the front of your throat releases hormones that tell your body to speed up or slow down metabolism; unfortunately, this gland is easily affected by hormonal imbalances in the body from other issues (i.e. stress, adrenal fatigue, excess estrogen) so it’s often not working optimally.
The size and composition of your body influences metabolic rate too! Larger people have a higher metabolic rate but people with lean muscle mass will burn more calories in general. Lean muscle mass will continue to burn calories even when you’re not working out, too.
This is where strength training comes into play. Since lean muscle mass burns more calories overall, you want to make sure you’re building your muscles up through weight training and intervals. Aerobic activity will help burn calories during the activity but it is muscle that continues to use energy post-workout, thus preventing fat storage.
What you eat also affects your metabolism. Digestion itself burns calories, which is called the ‘thermic effect of food’. It takes 15-30% more energy to digest protein than fat, and 3 times more energy to burn protein than carbohydrates. What does this tell you? Yep, you need to be eating protein! And, your muscles need protein to rebuild after a good workout and keep you strong.
Sleep and stress levels also affect the metabolic rate – having healthy sleeping patterns and practicing stress management will help keep your metabolism working at its best.
So, if you’re looking to lose weight, start by increasing your lean protein intake, adding some body weight exercises to your workout and doing something each day to reduce your stress.
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