Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. Even when you're at rest, your body needs energy for functions such as breathing, circulating blood and repairing cells. The number of calories your body uses for these basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Lots of people are complaining about how slow their metabolism is and will tell you why they need to start taking the latest diet supplement, yet they don't even understand how the human metabolism works. I need to go into some of the fundamentals of metabolism before I can even begin to tell you how to speed yours up. So what is metabolism? Scientifically there are many ways for me to explain it. Many experts make the definition very tough to understand, but I won't complicate things for you. I'm going to give you my extremely simple and easy to understand definition. Metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories to sustain life.
It should also be brought to your attention that your body burns calories 24 hours a day regardless of whether or not you work out. Did you know that? This means that your metabolism is always working, whether it is working at a slow rate or fast rate. Your body needs energy all the time remember, even while you're asleep and that is why skipping meals is the absolute worst thing you can do if your goal is to lose weight. Now, before we go any further let's talk about what affects metabolism.
If you are like most people you probably think that activity levels, age and your thyroid have the biggest impact on your metabolism? This is why most people have a poor understanding of metabolism. It is true that activity levels, thyroid function, and age do affect metabolism but not nearly as much as muscle tissue! The more muscle you have the more calories you burn regardless of how active you are, how old you are, etc. It's live tissue and it's there working for you and burning calories 24 hours a day; each and every day! For each additional pound of muscle you add to your body you will burn an additional 50 calories per day, simply at rest. With the proper training program, you can add 10 additional pounds of lean muscle to your frame in about a year's time. At this point you will burn an additional 500 calories per day just at rest. That means you will be burning 1 lb of fat every single week just while your body is at rest! You could be reading the newspaper, reading this article, watching television or sitting down talking to a friend and you will still be burning calories at a fast rate! And don't worry about gaining weight by adding some lean muscle to your body because the extra muscle will help burn up so much fat that you will drop those extra pounds of fat and still lose weight!
Here's a list of some of the factors affecting metabolism in order of greatest impact to least:
- Muscle tissue (you already know why this is on the top of the list)
- Meal frequency (the longer you wait between meals the more your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Eating more often speeds up the metabolism)
- Activity level (important but doesn't make a big difference if you don't match your eating to your expenditure)
- Food choices (balancing blood sugar levels)
- Hydration (over 70% of bodily functions take place in water; lack of water causes all your systems to slow down and unnecessary stress)
- Genetics (some people have higher metabolisms than others, you can't change genetics but you can still speed yours up!)
- Hormone production and function (before you make the thyroid your culprit first stabilize your blood sugar and throw in some progressive exercise 2-3 times each week)
- Stress (stress also can slow metabolism by placing extra stress and strain on numerous systems. plus, many people tend to overeat when "stressed out")
- Pharmaceuticals Unfortunately pharmaceuticals could seriously influence your hormonal health. While helping one part of the body with drugs you may mess up another part at the same time.
- Chemicals in Food Processed foods are made of chemicals. If you think about it, most of the processed foods don't fit into any food groups. The food is full of unrecognizable chemicals. 60% of all the food consumed by most in this country is processed made of refined grains, vegetable oils, and added sugar. Toxic chemicals found in processed foods are bad news for your hormones. Your body cannot recognized them as foods. Most crops are genetically modified or sprayed with endocrine disrupting pesticides. Pesticides accumulate in the fatty tissues of us and the animals we eat.
- Sleep It’s not so much that if you sleep, you will lose weight, but if you are sleep-deprived, meaning that you are not getting enough minutes of sleep or good quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly. The two hormones that are key in this process are ghrelin and leptin. “Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin,” Breus says. “Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin.”
Growth Hormone and Sleep
Growth Hormone is secreted by your pituitary gland and is the most important hormone to regulate the rate of fat burning and lean muscle building. It’s sometimes called the anti-aging hormone, or the fountain of youth hormone.
Growth hormone levels peak about an hour after you fall asleep. That means you get maximum lean muscle building and repair of vital body parts in the first couple of hours after you fall asleep. Assuming an 8 hour sleep cycle, you can have 3-4 growth hormone peaks during the night. If you go to bed past midnight, you miss the first peak which is the highest. If you eat before bed, you miss the first growth hormone peak entirely because insulin is in your system. Avoiding food during the last 3 hours before you fall asleep This can quickly lead to weight loss and waking up more energized in the morning.
I frequently hear people say "as soon as you hit 30 your metabolism slows down"! You've probably heard people say it too and maybe you've even said it. I know I hear it all the time and I got tired of hearing it so I did a little research and found that the metabolism does NOT slow down significantly due to aging but DOES due to a lack of muscle. The fact of the matter is that you don't lose muscle quickly due to aging either but due to a decrease or lack of physical activity.
What I've found through my research is that there are three major causes for a slower metabolism:
- You lose muscle due to the lack of physical activity. (A sedentary lifestyle)
- Your body cannibalizes muscle when it needs energy but you won't supply enough energy to the body because you are "dieting" and skipping meals. (Body starts using muscle as fuel)
- Your activity levels tend to decrease as you age.
Ok, so we have discussed the problem but what is the solution? We need to address those 3 issues!! I've found through years of experience helping numerous people, that increasing your metabolism and getting rid of excess body fat can often times be easier than you think! Yet you'll hear of all these experts telling you how hard it is and why you need to buy their new diet program, supplement, or fitness contraption. Most of them are just trying to get you to buy something that you don't need. It doesn't have to be confusing, and you really don't need any of that stuff! The main tool that you need is an understanding of how your body works and the willingness to make some small changes.
Stop the storage of new fat
If you're just going to add new fat later that day it doesn't make any sense to start an exercise program. This is a common error that people who start an exercise program often commit. They start to exercise but then they go back eating the same harmful foods that made them overweight before. That is a recipe for disaster.
Did you know that we don't get fat simply due to a lack of exercise? We get fat because we supply the body with more calories than it needs at a given time. The solution is more about your eating and caloric intake than it is about exercise. I'm not telling that you have to eat a low-fat, super clean and healthy diet consisting of salad and tofu only. We all know how boring that is. You can still eat the foods you like IF you can give the body just the AMOUNT it needs.
The key is to give the body the energy it needs, but just that amount and not a bunch of extra useless calories. The reality is that anything can be stored as fat. Salad can be stored as fat, apples, broccoli, skim milk, etc. It's a numbers game. If you consume more calories than you burn you will gain weight. If you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight. You can forget about trying to burn off any fat unless you can first stop storing new fat! In review, you do that by matching your eating to your activity level. This means small, balanced meals or snacks every 2-3 hours and the amount of calories in each feeding should depend on how active you are at that time of day. The more active you are the more calories you will need at that point in the day.
Attack the existing fat
In order to accomplish this you need to establish stable blood sugar/energy levels, and progressive cardiovascular/aerobic exercise and strength training.
Earlier we talked about how important stable blood sugar and energy levels are and how to match your eating to your activity level. Let's talk about the exercise part of the equation now. In order for the exercise to even be worthwhile you must be sure it's progressive. Just because you go on the elliptical for 40 minutes three times a week, doesn't mean your body has to burn off that unwanted body fat! You have to force the body to make changes and improvements and the ONLY way to do that is to consistently provide a stimulus or stress that is greater than what the body is used to. If you keep on doing the same things every workout your body will continue to look the same way. In order for the body to change you will need to continually change your workouts and challenge your body beyond what it is used to.
Here are some general guidelines on how you can make your exercise progressive and productive:
- Change exercises frequently (every 2-4 weeks)
- Increase resistance
- Increase Reps
- Slower reps for more time under tension or faster reps for more neurological recruitment
- Shorten rest periods
- Increase sets
- Change the order of your exercises
- Increase speed/resistance
- Perform intervals ( decrease rest time to increase intensity)
- Increase distance traveled
- Cross train by performing numerous activities