So as I try to convey the workings of our metabolism, I find myself getting caught up in the whirlpool of information, myths, and stigma attached to something that can be explained fairly simply. I can bet that you or someone you know have heard or used the phrase 'I've got a slow metabolism'? Am I right? It tends to get used in the context of weight gain, or even the constant struggle to lose weight. However, if I was to put you on the spot, could you somewhat define or articulate WHAT metabolism is, and HOW it functions?
The answer, in my opinion, would be a resounding NO disguised in hums, hahs, and mumbled jargon.
So lets first seek to understand
In the previous Blog - Are You Counting Calories? - I discussed what a calorie is, why we need them, and their relation to our energy levels and weight management. Simply, calories are the fuel that powers our body systems, functions, and processes.
Metabolism occurs within every cell in the body and it is the chemical process of breaking down nutrients (the food + drinks we consume) into useable energy.
This energy is then utilized by the body (burned) in three main ways:
1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy required to perform the body's basic functions while at rest - breathe, circulate blood, grow and repair cells, and everything else it does to survive: 60-80%
2. The breaking down and digestion of food: 10%
3. Physical Activity: 10-30%
To achieve or maintain a healthy body weight is a balancing act. Consuming too much energy in the form of calories for our metabolic needs, and the excess will be stored as fat. There is an additional caveat, and that is constant and excess exposure to chemicals, pollutants, and toxins from everyday cleaning + cosmetic products, processed foods, and the environment (indoors and outdoors) is finding it's way into the body which needs to be filtered through a detoxification process. Too much toxins, like calories, it is also stored in the fat cells!
Although the majority of the energy used within the body is used to keep our systems regulated, we do have an element of control to manipulate our metabolism. Physical exercise demands more energy and therefore burns more calories. Those with greater muscle mass, require more fuel for the muscles, which burns more energy, and allows for a faster metabolism.
How do I have a slow metabolism you ask?
There are a number of factors, and given that each individual is uniquely fine-tuned, it is very close to impossible to give a blanket catch-all response.
However, there are a handful of tell-tale signs.
1. Aging tends to slow metabolism slightly but not significantly. This does coincide with the genetic makeup of muscle wasting and shrinkage. In addition, when aging, there tends to be a lesser amount of vigorous activity and exercise performed.
2. Dieting (in particular crash dieting) may have it's intended effect of weight loss, however the body metabolism will fine tune to adjust it's demands to the lower intakes, slowing the metabolism, which can in turn be difficult to reverse.
3. Sex matters. Males typically have a higher metabolism than females due to the genetic make-up and an increase in muscle mass.
So in a nutshell, our metabolism is designed to convert the fuel we digest into energy that sustains life. Is it possible to speed up a naturally slow metabolism? Can more va va voom reignite a metabolism that has become sluggish over time? It is often small changes that in turn have the greatest affects. There's no getting away from it; adopting a healthier diet and making sure you get enough exercise are both imperative. Incorporating High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) revs up the metabolism which can last the entire day. Increase protein intake and muscle building activities. Greater muscle mass requires more energy, thus greater metabolic needs. Protein, has a higher thermic effect and takes longer to burn than fats or carbohydrates requiring and providing more energy. Lastly, replace caffeine fueled tea and coffees with green tea. The most notable compound called epigallocatechin gallate, is thought to increase the calories and fat you burn. which in turn can boost metabolism enough to burn an average of 100 extra calories a day.
So the next time you hear a slow metabolism being made the scapegoat for a failure to lose or shift weight, provide energy, or sustain normal functioning....ask yourself what actions can you take or habits you can break to wrestle back control.