This word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days. What you may be aware of is, if yours is too slow you might find it difficult to lose weight, or perhaps you gain weight easily. Our metabolism naturally slows as we age, but what exactly does this all mean?
Well technically “metabolism” is the word 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.
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.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and generally stay alive. And without this amazing biochemistry you wouldn’t be possible. However, everyone’s different and when you put all of these processes together into your metabolism,you can imagine that these processes can work too quickly, too slowly, or just right, depending on YOU.
Which brings us to our “metabolic rate”.
Our metabolic rate is 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 as work or creating heat, the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off because there’ll be fewer “leftover” calories to store for later.
There are a couple of different ways to measure your metabolic rate.
- Your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you’re not being physically active; and
- Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for “work” (e.g. exercise) throughout a 24-hour period.
So, how do we get your metabolism working FOR you so you can burn those calories while you’re either resting or not being particularly active? Kind of like a workout when you’re not working out! In order to feel great let’s look at what affects your metabolic rate…..
In a nutshell: a lot!
One thing some of you may think of is your thyroid. Did you know that 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. Many women have underfunctioning thyroids, however don’t find this out until they do a thorough health check.
But that’s not the only thing that affects your metabolic rate.
In this case size DOES matter!
When it comes to metabolism, larger people generally have higher metabolic rates; but your body composition is also crucial!
As you can imagine, muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be. Even when you’re not working out! (This is the saving time bit ;-)).
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.
The thing is, when you go on a calorie restrictive diet, your body goes into starvation mode and tries to conserve as much energy as possible and store fat for when it may need it later on. So while you may be losing weight in the short term, your metabolic rate will slow down. You don’t want this to happen because you’ll find that not only does your weight loss attempt stall, but you’ll have less energy and zing. So you definitely want to offset that with more muscle mass.
Aerobic exercise also temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move so they’re doing “work”.
The TYPE of food you eat also affects your metabolic rate.
Your body burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
You can use this 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.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. By working them out and feeding them what they need they’ll help you to lose weight and keep it off.
And don’t forget the Mind-Body connection. There is plenty of research that shows the influence that things like stress and sleep have on the metabolic rate.
So just to summarise:
- Calories count, but metabolism raises the bar. If you can begin to control your metabolic rate you begin down the path towards a leanier, healthier, more vibrant you.
- We can affect our metabolic rate by building muscle mass, eating enough lean protein and ensuring our thyroid is functioning correctly.
- Consider improving other areas of our life, like reducing stress and improving sleep.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to metabolism. We want it to be our friend and work with us in our quest to look and feel better. You’d be surprised at how so many different things can work to increase (or decrease) your metabolic rate.
Download my FREE guide with 10 Simple Steps you can follow to begin create a leaner, healthier you and give your metabolism a boost today :-).