Is there a way to get our metabolism to work WITH us and not against us?
We all want to know how one person can eat like a growing teenage boy and stay slim, whilst another can merely look a cupcake in the eye and put on weight.
It comes down to our individual genetic differences in our metabolism, exercise patterns and muscle mass. Our metabolism is the system in our bodies responsible for converting everything we eat into the energy that we need to live and function. A “fast” metabolism is like an oven running on high at all times, burning through calories quickly. A “slow” metabolism is one that runs a bit cooler and requires fewer calories to keep going.
Whilst it’s really easy to blame our weight on the metabolism our genetic makeup gives us, this makeup only accounts for around 10% of the problem. Our environment actually influences the other 90%. This means that you can manage and support your metabolism to get it to work for you.
The Metabolism Can Change
In fact, our metabolic rates change all the time. Metabolisms actually are designed to help us cope with the demands and inputs of our day. This means that when you get up and walk about, your metabolism will speed up to compensate for this increased energy output.
Likewise, when you eat a meal, your metabolism will speed up to process the nutrients coming in. This is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), and varies based on the contents of the meal you eat, which I’ll discuss further in a bit.
So how can we get our metabolism to speed up and work for us? Here are 4 science-backed methods.
1. Eat Enough Calories
This really cannot be stressed enough. Cutting your calories dramatically can drastically decrease your metabolism. Although a small deficit may be helpful for weight loss, it may be counter-productive if you cut too many calories. If you are consuming fewer than 1000 calories per day, your body goes into a kind of “survival mode” and slows down your metabolism. These effects can take time to recover from, with some studies a slower metabolism persisting over 5 weeks despite increasing calorie intake.
If you want to lose weight with a mild calorie deficit, make sure you don’t restrict too much for too long.
2. Eat Enough Protein
Remember the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) mentioned earlier? Well in addition to protein helping you feel full, it also has quite a high TEF. This means it can significantly increase the rate at which your body will burn calories.
The TEF for protein is much higher than that for fat or carbohydrates. In fact when it comes to cutting your calories for weight loss, studies have shown that if you maintain sufficient protein intake throughout the calorie deficit, the decrease in metabolism is minimized.
If you want to support your metabolism when you’re losing weight, make sure you eat enough protein.
3. The No-Brainer: Exercise
I know we all wish there was a way to get around it, but there really isn’t. If you want to make your metabolism work for you, you need to move your body regularly. The best type of exercise to increase your metabolic rate is strength or resistance training.
Strength training has been shown to speed up the metabolism in healthy people as well as those who are overweight or obese. Strength training increases the amount of muscle tissue in your body, and muscle tissue is very active. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism tends to run.
Support your metabolism through incorporating strength-based exercises at least 2 -3 days per week.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping fewer hours than the recommended 7 – 9 hours per night increases your risk for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and even depression. It can also decrease your metabolic rate and increase your risk of unwanted weight gain.
Studies have shown that healthy people sleeping fewer than 4 hours per night, for 5 nights in a row experience a decrease in their metabolism by around 2.6% on average. Unlike the effects of calorie deficits however, your metabolism can return back to normal if you begin getting enough sleep again. If you think taking a nap in the day might help, unfortunately if you are in a sleep deficit, this may further disrupt your natural sleep cycle (circadian rhythm).
We need to get 7 – 9 hours of sleep on average each night (not during the day) to preserve our metabolic rate.
Our metabolisms are not fixed for life. They are in fact quite amenable to change if we simply take the right steps. All of the above strategies in conjunction with an overall healthy diet rich in vegetables and unrefined foods, will help make your metabolism work for you.
Make sure to eat enough calories on a daily basis, include protein sources at your main meals and snacks, incorporate strength training, and get enough sleep. Four simple enough strategies to make your metabolism your best friend.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy the following: