Optimizing Metabolism: Get Moving
Have you ever heard someone explain weight gain by saying “I have a slow metabolism?” While it’s true that weight loss and metabolism are linked, it may not be in the way you expect. In fact, slow metabolism is rarely the cause of excess weight gain. Ultimately, food and beverage intake and physical activity determine how much a person weighs.
Metabolism is all about energy—it influences the way your body uses the food you eat. Before you learn how to increase metabolism naturally, it’s important to understand the basics of your metabolism.
Converting Food into Energy
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex biochemical process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function.
Even when you’re at rest, your body needs energy for all its “hidden” functions, such as breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells.
Your Basal Metabolic Rate
The number of calories your body uses to carry out basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR)—what you might call metabolism. To put it simply, this is the amount of fuel you need to get by each day to maintain your current weight.
Several factors determine your individual basal metabolic rate:
- Body size and composition: The bodies of people who are larger or have more muscle burn up more calories, even at rest.
- Sex: Men usually have less body fat and more muscle than women of the same age and weight. As a result, men burn more calories.
- Age: As you get older, your muscle mass tends to decrease and fat accounts for more of your weight. This slows down calorie burning.
What Speeds Up Metabolism?
Your body’s basic energy needs aren’t easily changed. In other words, it isn’t necessarily easy to increase metabolism. Why do people consider increasing metabolism? Your basal metabolic rate accounts for about 60 to 75 percent of the calories you burn every day. That’s a lot of calories.
Keep in mind that two other factors determine how many calories your body burns each day:
- Food processing (thermogenesis): Digesting, absorbing, transporting, and storing the food you consume also takes calories. This accounts for about 10 percent of the calories used each day. For the most part, your body’s energy requirement to process food stays relatively steady and isn’t easily changed.
- Physical activity: Physical activity and exercise—such as playing tennis, walking to the store, chasing after the dog and any other movement—account for the rest of the calories your body burns up each day.
Increasing physical activity will often yield better results than seeking ways to increase metabolism. That said, we can find ways to maximize the metabolism we have by constantly sending “queues” to the brain that it needs to burn energy and not conserve it. This is why eating the first thing in the morning, and consuming small, frequent meals is so important.
Metabolism and Weight
It may be tempting to blame your metabolism for weight gain, but metabolism is simply a natural process. Your metabolism balances out to meet your individual needs. That’s why if you try so-called starvation diets, your body compensates by slowing down these bodily processes and conserving calories for survival.
Only in rare cases do you get excessive weight gain from a medical problem that slows metabolism, such as Cushing’s syndrome or suffering from hypothyroidism. Occasionally, an individual will have a lower than expected metabolism that is related to his or her genetics, but it is quite rare.
As mentioned above, although most overweight individuals have good metabolism, many do not take advantage of that metabolism because they skip breakfast, or go several hours between meals and then consume more then their bodies can burn. The timing of meals and quantities consumed particularly in the late hours of the day can be an incredibly important piece of the calories in/calories out equation.
A Simple Solution
Weight gain is most commonly the result of eating more calories than you burn in a single day. To lose weight, you need to create an energy deficit by eating fewer calories, maximizing the metabolism you possess, and increasing the number of calories you burn through physical activity.
As part of a healthy meal plan, bariatric physicians recommend eating three small meals a day and two small snacks a day. Each meal and snack should have an element of protein, and should be no more than 3 hours apart. This won’t help you increase metabolic rate, but it will help balance the way your body processes food, and prevent your body from going into a fat preserving state which occurs with prolonged fasts.