You’ve heard it used before, the “I have a slow metabolism” explanation. This energy-conversion process is blamed for fatigue, weight gain, and any other stubborn issues with which one seems to struggle. Is your metabolism the culprit for those relentless unshed pounds …
The body’s metabolism is a mystery to many. We assume (sometimes cynically) the buff bod on the beach blanket next to us has a fast one. We complain on a bloated day that our own is slow. As if metabolism is fate delivering luck or misfortune, it is often a convenient excuse for being unaccountable. Suddenly, we aren’t in control of our body’s well-being and form. It’s the ominous metabolism that determines our size and shape. How tempting to skip the workout or go for an extra scoop when we feed ourselves this theory.
News flash: A slow metabolism is not usually the cause for excessive weight gain. Diet and physical activity determine your weight.
Metabolism is the complex biochemical process by which your body converts food and drink into energy. Calories are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function. Even at rest, the body requires energy for functions like breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells. The number of calories used to perform these functions is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR), or metabolism.
Each person has a unique BMR based on body size and composition, gender, and age. A consistent 60 to 75 percent of calories burned every day accounts for your BMR. Two other major factors determine your body’s calorie burning abilities: food processing and exercise. About 10 percent of daily calories are burned by digesting, processing, transporting, and storing food. The balance of calories burned is determined by how physically active you are. This is called your physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE).
The process of weight gain is straightforward: consume more calories than you burn. The body reacts to this equation and adjusts accordingly. If you eat less, your body slows its processes to compensate. For example, if you don’t consume enough calories, those you do consume are conserved for survival. So goes the old, “I’m skipping lunch to burn off my fat reserve.” myth. In essence, the bodily functions slow as a natural balancing process, producing the opposite effect than desired.
Speed up Your Calorie-Burning
Your metabolism is now freed of charges. It alone does not determine body weight, except in rare cases like hypothyroidism and Cushing ’s syndrome. You are largely responsible for the numbers on the bathroom scale, the size clothes you wear, and how quickly you tire. Be a Type A exerciser, of sorts. In this instance, have trouble lounging around and become a calorie-burning machine.
Your PAEE energy is used in daily physical activities, from a high-impact workout to a compulsory habit of knee-shaking at your desk. (Although fidgeting isn’t recommended, it does actually burn calories.) A busy day filled with a vigorous game of soccer, a broken down vehicle causing you to walk everywhere, and a personal training session is considered high PAEE. The next day, when you’ve gotten a public transport pass and your game is rained out, might indicate a low PAEE day. The higher your PAEE, the more calorie burning, the closer to your ideal weight.
Aerobic Exercise: Activities such as cycling, swimming, and treadmill time are aerobic in nature. These exercises focus on calorie burning, which helps lose weight regardless of your metabolism rate. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, more if possible, to keep the burn going. Often, those labeled with a fast metabolism are just more active than others. You know the type who can’t sit still—literally.
Strength Training: Building and maintaining muscle mass is also important for efficient calorie burning. Those with larger or more muscle mass burn more calories, even at rest. Ward off muscle loss common to aging by incorporating activities like weightlifting into your routine.
The aerobic portion of your fitness regimen helps burn calories in the short-term. Strength training builds muscles that help burn fat over the long-term.
Zealous weightlifters have been known to spike their resting metabolic rate for a brief interval beyond their workouts. This is a result of high exercise energy expenditure and high energy intake. Simply put: It’s the outcome of intense weightlifting, not just throwing around some dumbbells. Ironically, these endurance-trained athletes usually aren’t concerned with increasing their metabolism for weight-loss. And, the recreational exerciser typically doesn’t exercise at the intensity and length required for this short-lived metabolic perk.
Be a Frequent Snacker
Studies have found those who eat smaller, more frequent meals have an easier time losing weight. Long gaps between meals slow your metabolism to compensate. It’s acting in “starvation mode.” When you finally satisfy your hunger, it will probably be with a large meal (possibly overeating) and a slow metabolism that wants to savor every calorie.
A study presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine reflected the results of researchers from Georgia State University. Data indicated that when athletes ate snacks totaling about 250 calories each, three times a day, they had greater energy output than when they didn’t snack. The snacks also allowed the athletes to eat less at their three main daily meals. This rewarded them with a higher metabolic rate, a lower caloric intake, and reduction in body fat.
Be cautious of vitamins and fitness gimmicks that claim to increase metabolism. Many of these products aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration so their effectiveness is disputable. Instead, consume natural nutrients that are proven to enhance your fitness efforts. See “More Power to You” at www.fitnessandwellnessnews.com/nutrition/more-power-to-you (October 27, 2010). Foods high in protein and calcium help burn fat and build muscle.
What You Can Do
Refocus your efforts on increasing activity and decreasing empty caloric foods. With consistent strength and cardio exercise, and a nutritious diet, you assure your body’s healthiest outcome. We’re inundated by magazines and programs that talk of boosting metabolism. Stop reading (unless, of course, you are simultaneously doing leg lifts) and start moving!
“Does Exercise Affect Resting Metabolism?” by Elizabeth Quinn at www.about.com.
“Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories” at www.mayoclinic.com.
“Metabolism: What’s the Best Way to Boost It?” by Katherine Zeratsky at www.mayoclinic.com.
“Slow Metabolism: Is It to Blame for Weight Gain?” by Donald Hensrud at www.mayoclinic.com.
Introduction photo (tape measure): www.flickr.com/photos/24975064@N05/3986897858/sizes/m/in/photostream/
Water workout: www.flickr.com/photos/24975064@N05/4840948510
Stomach crunches: www.flickr.com/photos/vooktv/3944213055
Fruits & veggies: www.flickr.com/photos/cproppe/2876390331/sizes/m/in/photostream/