Everyone complains about their metabolism “slowing down.”
I get messages every day from people who have a “slow metabolism” as their excuse for not losing weight.
So today I thought I’d shed light on what your metabolism really is, and how to get it more revved up than a Jack Russell on Amphetamines.
What does metabolism mean, anyway?
Here’s wikipedia’s definition: “Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in living organisms to maintain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories. Catabolism breaks down organic matter, for example to harvest energy in cellular respiration. Anabolism uses energy to construct components of cells such as proteins and nucleic acids.”
Basically, the sum of all buildups and breakdowns happening in your body.
Now, if you’re reading a blog about fat loss and fitness, we can probably skip all the boring stuff about nucleic acids.
Here we are interested in one thing: CALORIE BURNING.
Your body burns calories through the 4 components of metabolism: the calories it takes to keep you alive, the calories you burn by exercising, the calories you burn through eating, and a tiny bit of calories burned according to your genetic makeup.
1) Wold Fitness Metabolism Component Number One: Keeping Your Butt Alive
When I was studying exercise science in college, we spent a lot of time studying your Resting Metabolic Rate (or RMR).
I always explain RMR as the calories you would burn if you spent all day in bed. The energy would be used for pumping blood, repairing muscles and organs, thinking, etc.
Your RMR is the bulk of the calories you burn every day, about 50-75%.
Because this is such a large chunk of the calories you burn every day, it makes sense to spend the most time focused on this, right?
And the way you can rev up your resting metabolic rate the fastest is to do two things:
- Build up more lean, toned muscle
- Activate your muscles to spend more energy in repair while you’re resting
During one study in college I slept in the exercise science lab hooked up to an open circuit spirometer to measure how many calories I burned while sleeping. It turned out that I had so much lean muscle at the time that I would have burned just over 4,300 Calories if I had spent the entire day in bed!
Now, I was a big muscular dude, so this number was off the charts. Mostly we were trying to see how many Calories lean muscle would add to your daily metabolic burn. It’s a lot. Most exercise physiology textbooks have settled on a simple formula:
One Pound Of Muscle = 50 Calories Burned Daily
So if you switch out one pound of muscle for one pound of fat, you would weigh exactly the same, but burn an extra 50 calories a day!
And the second way to raise your resting metabolic burn is to activate what muscle you have to burn a bit more calories every day.
I call this Firestorm Training (You can see a sample training Firestorm program here: 6 Week Workout For Fat Loss).
Studies have found that training to activate your lean muscle will keep you burning calories for a day and a half after your workout!
Why? Well, if you remember above, a big part of your resting metabolic rate is repairing your muscles. If you train really hard ON THE RIGHT PROGRAM, you’ll get just the right amount of breakdown for you metabolism to fix.
And then you’ll keep burning calories long after you’ve left the gym.
Wold Fitness Metabolism Component Number Two: Keeping Your Butt Moving
Every time you move, you fuel your muscles with calories. Otherwise they wouldn’t have the energy to contract.
The scientastic name for this part of your metabolism is Physical Activity Level (or PAL).
Your PAL is about 10-30% of your daily metabolic burn. If you exercise you’re obviously going to burn more calories than if you don’t.
Of course, this isn’t just exercise at the gym. This is any physical activity. Walking the dog, climbing the stairs, running from the cops, all count as part of your PAL metabolic burn.
When you get right down to it, the more you move, the better your body is going to be.
Wold Fitness Metabolism Component Number Three: Keeping Your Butt Fed
One of the coolest ways your metabolism burns calories is with the Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF).
This is the energy you use chewing, digesting, transporting, and eliminating food in your body.
TEF is about 5-15% of your daily metabolism, depending on if you know how to maximize the benefits of your eating plan.
The two best ways to boost your thermic effect of feeding metabolic burn are to:
- Eat better foods (ex: broccoli “costs” more than wheat)
- Eat more often (this alone will change your body shape)
A great study of Japanese boxers showed the power of the Thermic Effect Of Feeding:
The boxers were divided into two groups. Both were fed 800 Calories a day. They trained like maniacs (boxers are crazy!). One group ate twice a day, the other ate 5 times a day.
So the only difference was in meal frequency. After 14 days, both groups had lost the same amount of weight – 15 pounds.
The group that ate twice a day lost 13 pounds of muscle, 2 pounds of fat. The group that ate 5 times a day lost 13 pounds of fat, 2 pounds of muscle.
Which group is going to keep their strength, health, and metabolism? The ones that lost fat instead of muscle, of course!
Eating healthy foods more often is the key to maximizing your Thermic Effect of Feeding.
Wold Fitness Metabolism Component Number Four: Your Genes
Something called Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is up to 5% of your daily calorie burn.
Unless they make a big breakthrough in stem cells, there isn’t anything you can do to change this, so we don’t focus much on NEAT.
I just wanted you to know it’s there
The Wold Fitness Metabolism Big Idea Of The Day
A “slow metabolism” just means you aren’t taking care of the three main components of your metabolism we looked at today.
Why does your metabolism “slow down”? Usually it means you’re moving less, not keeping your lean, toned muscle, and eating the wrong foods at the wrong time.
You can totally kick your metabolism in the butt and get it in gear.
It’s up to you.