Metabolism: How to Rev up Your Metabolic Engine and Make It Work for You
When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s not just about the number on the scale. Your metabolism, activity level, and what you eat all come into play.
Take for example, three people who all weigh about 180 lbs. Who has the fastest metabolism?
- A body builder
- An inactive or obese person
- A tall, thin, moderately active person, who goes running and plays basketball twice a month
The answer: It depends.
Metabolism varies from person to person and can be largely determined by genetics. But that doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with what you’re born with. Healthy eating choices and regular exercise can impact your body’s ability to convert calories into energy, and understanding how to make your metabolism work for you is the first step to a healthier lifestyle[ref]A Human Thrifty Phenotype Associated with Less Weight Loss During Caloric Restriction[/ref].
Metabolism is the set of processes, both chemical and physical, in the cells of a living organism by which substances are transformed to create energyEncyclopedia Britannica: Metabolism definition. Simply put, metabolism is how the body converts calories from what you eat into energy.
The number of calories that your body burns at rest is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR accounts for about 70% of the calories you burn on a daily basis. According to the Mayo Clinic, even at rest, your body needs energy for all its hidden functions, such as breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories.
Try this simple BMR calculator by inputting your gender, weight, height, and age. (Note: 8fit users who have created a fitness plan can log into the app, tap on your “Profile” tab, then tap on the “My fitness plan” card to reveal your target calories.)
A number of factors may affect your BMR:
- Body type. In general, people who are more muscular burn more calories to make those muscles work, even at rest. (All the more reason not to skip out on strength training!) The more muscle you have, the more cells you have to feed, thus the more energy you need.
- Muscles vs. fat. Muscle cells metabolize at the highest and fastest rate, meaning that muscle burns fat. Men are more likely to have a higher BMR than women because women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and lower percentage of muscle mass compared to men.
- Age. Getting older is often combined with sarcopenia, or the loss of muscles with aging. The older you get, the more your muscles deteriorate, making fat account for more of your body weight. The less muscle you have, the fewer calories you need.
- Gender. As women age, they produce less estrogen, promoting abdominal fat storage. As men age, they produce less testosterone, which contributes to the loss muscle mass. For both men and women, the decrease of the growth hormone somatropin is also associated with less fat burning.
- Diet history. If you’ve yo-yo dieted in the past, your metabolism may have taken a hit. “Strictly cutting down calories and dieting for longer periods is accompanied by adaptive metabolic changes in order to maintain all the functions in the body,” says 8 fit nutritionist Jennifer Witte. “Because of this adaptive response, someone who has dieted will often require fewer calories per day to maintain weight and physical activity level than someone who has never been on a diet.”
This means someone who was never overweight might need 2,500 calories to maintain his or her weight, while someone who had to diet down to that weight may need only 2,125 to 2,375 calories to hold steady.
Making metabolism work for you
Keeping in mind that everyone’s BMR is different, incorporating physical activity and eating right into your lifestyle can tip the scales in your favor. The trick is to burn more calories than you eat, and to create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories or burning more through physical activity, or both.
- Work out. Exercise gives your metabolism a little jolt with every session you complete, and raises your BMR by increasing muscle mass percentage. It also encourages you to eat well and may “punish” you a bit if you haven’t been doing so. If you’re maintaining a quality diet, exercise will feel better. If you eat a lot of junk food, you’ll more likely feel heavier, sluggish, have lower energy, and are more likely to cramp up during workouts.
- Avoid processed foods, which lack the nutrition to keep you feeling full for long and burdens your body for all the work it takes to process them. It makes you crave more foods like this, even though they never really fill you up.
- Cut out sugar. Sugar is an extremely addictive substance which will hijack your metabolism and the rate at which your body stores fat when consumed in excess. Your best bet is to avoid it.
- Eat regularly and skip that midnight snack. Make sure not to eat less than two hours before going to sleep, as anything you eat during this period is much more likely to be stored as fat.
- Fill up your water bottle. Staying well hydrated also boosts your metabolism, so make sure to drink plenty of water every day.
- Vary phases of dieting and “normal” eating. Stabilizing your weight helps to make sure your BMR doesn’t decrease.
- Snack smartly. Provide your body with enough energy for workouts, so your body doesn’t have to burn muscles to get enough energy.
“It’s too dangerous to put anything in your body that isn’t required to thoroughly be proven safe. If the Spartans didn’t need supplements to achieve their physical prowess, neither do you.” – Coach Mandy
- Pills and dietary supplements. Stay away from metabolism and fat burning products that may actually be harmful. Dietary supplements are rarely approved by any health organizations.
- Fad diets, shakes, and meal replacements. Many fad diets encourage unhealthy and unsustainable eating habits, including living off nutritionally deficient diets for lack of variety in food choices. Fad diets may briefly achieve results, but they’ll be quickly lost when you resume more normal eating habits.
- Extreme calorie cutting. Don’t cut down the calories too much to make sure your metabolism is not collapsing.
Learn to understand your body
“It’s best to keep your diet clean and all-natural so you can best understand your body and metabolism’s usual patterns of appetite and energy levels, so you can make them work for you instead of against you. After all, fast metabolism or slow, your body’s only doing its best job to take care of you. It’s important to listen to it and respect its needs.” – Coach Mandy
Tracking your meals and workout can help make you aware of your daily and weekly patterns. 8fit is designed to help make this easy. We automatically track each workout, and let you to track other activities. If you are an 8fit Pro member, follow the healthy and delicious recipes to keep your calorie consumption on track towards your goals.
With some time, patience, and proper tracking, you’ll learn to understand your body and work with it.