When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight that you feel comfortable with, it’s not as simple as calories in, calories out. Our metabolism plays a major role in weight control and often hard to get a grip on.
Metabolism varies from person to person and is largely determined by genetics, hormones, activity level, gender, muscle mass and overall state of health. Understanding how to make your metabolism work with not against you is the first step to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Metabolism, lifting the curtain
Metabolism is how the body converts calories (kilocalories, if we’re getting technical) from what you eat into energy. Healthy eating choices, regular exercise, sleep and stress levels are a few things that can impact your body’s ability to convert calories into energy.
Your total energy expenditure is a combination of the following:
- RMR – Your resting metabolic rate
- TEE – The thermic effect of exercise (TEE)
- TEF – The thermic effect of food
- NEAT – Non-exercise activity thermogenesis
Let’s delve deeper. Hang on tight, it’s about to get a little sciency. 🔬
Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
The number of calories that your body burns at rest is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR accounts for up to 70% of the calories you burn on a daily basis. Your body needs this energy for all its automatic functions, such as breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels and cell growth and repair.
Factors that affect your RMR include:
- Size and composition: Even at rest, people who are taller or larger burn more calories than someone smaller. This is because the body has to work harder to circulate blood throughout the body.
- Muscle composition: Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, even when you’re at rest. Studies show that 10 pounds of muscle can burn 50 calories in a day while 10 pounds of fat burns just 20 calories.
- Age: Getting older is often associated with the loss of muscle mass (called sarcopenia). The less muscle you have, the fewer calories you need. However, keep in mind that this process can be slowed with exercise and adequate dietary protein.
- Gender: Men are more likely to have a higher RMR than women as they tend to have a higher percentage of muscle mass versus body fat (which women need for estrogen production).
- Diet history: If you’ve yo-yo dieted or tried a calorie-restrictive diet in the past, your metabolism may have taken a hit. When calorie counts drop too low, you can run the risk of malnutrition and increase the chances of rebound weight gain.
Thermic effect of exercise (TEE)
The thermic effect of exercise is the energy you expend with physical exercise like Tabata. This can be as low as 10% in sedentary individuals and as high as 100% in Olympic athletes. It is calculated based on how active you are in your daily life and the amount of exercise you get.
Thermic effect of food (TEF)
The way a food is digested can have an impact on how hard your body has to work to break it down. This is called thermogenesis. A balance diet of protein, carbohydrates and fat results in daily energy expenditure of 5-15%, with higher values for foods containing protein and fiber.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is the energy expended for things not relating to exercise including working, playing and a night of dancing. It also includes small movement like typing, fidgeting, and leg shaking. This accounts for 10-50% of your total energy expenditure.
5 ways to boost your metabolism
As already mentioned, everyone’s metabolic rate is different, but it is possible to boost – or optimize – your metabolic rate. You can do this by incorporating physical activity and healthy eating habits into your lifestyle. Here are some of our recommended tips:
- Exercise: Exercise gives your metabolism a little jolt with every session you complete. It also raises your RMR by increasing muscle mass percentage. Another metabolism-related benefit to exercise is that is fosters the afterburn effect, called the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
- Increase whole foods: Balanced, whole foods, that focus on protein and fiber can help increase the thermic effect of food. Processed foods lack the nutrition to keep your metabolism working optimally. They also make you crave more and feel less satisfied.
- Eat regularly and snack smartly: Provide your body with enough energy for workouts, so your body doesn’t have to burn through muscles for fuel.
- Fill up your water bottle: Staying well hydrated also boosts your metabolism, so make sure to drink plenty of water every day. Add some flavor to keep thing interesting.
- Rest: Lack of sleep can cause metabolic dysregulation including a decrease in how well your body uses glucose. Hormone changes, including leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol, influence hunger and metabolism.
Learn to understand your body
Tracking your meals and workouts can help make you aware of your daily and weekly patterns, helping you make the changes you need to fuel your fire (metabolism). With some time, patience, and proper tracking, you’ll learn to understand your body and work with it.