This word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days.
You know that if yours is too slow you might gain weight, and if it speeds up you might lose weight. But what exactly does this all mean?
Well technically “metabolism” is the word to describe all of the biochemical reactions in your body. It's how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and generally stay alive. And without this amazing biochemistry you would not be possible.
Metabolism includes how the cells in your body influence:
● activities you can control (ex. physical activity)
● activities you can't control (ex. heartbeat, wound healing, processing nutrients & toxins)
● storage of excess energy for later
So when you put all of these processes together (known as metabolism) you can imagine that everything can work too quickly, too slowly, or just right.
Which brings us to the “metabolic rate”.
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, those calories!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
● Work (exercise and other activity)
● Heat (from all those biochemical reactions)
● Storage (extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat)
As you can imagine, the more calories you burn from physical work and creating heat, the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off because there will be fewer “leftover” calories to store for later.
There are a couple of different ways to measure metabolic rate. One is the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you're not being physically active.
The other is the “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for physical work/exercise throughout a 24-hour period.
What affects your metabolic rate?
In a nutshell: a lot!
The first thing you should consider is your thyroid. This gland at the front of your throat releases hormones to tell your body to “speed up” your metabolism. The more thyroid hormone there is, the faster things will work and the more calories you'll burn.
But that's not the only thing that affects your metabolic rate.
How big you are counts too!
Larger people have higher metabolic rates; but your body composition is crucial!
Muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be - even when you're not working out.
This is exactly why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want your muscles to be burning those calories for you!
Aerobic exercise also temporarily increases your metabolic rate (ex. yoga, walking, swimming, etc.) because you are combining the movement with a balanced and extended intake of respiration (oxygen to your muscles), opposed to anaerobic exercise which does not include balanced respiration intake. Your muscles are burning fuel to move so they're doing “work”.
The type of food you eat also affects your metabolic rate.
Your body actually burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
You can use this to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes different types of foods differently.
Fats, for example increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbohydrates increase it by 5-10%, and protein increases it by 15-30%. By trading some of your fat or carbs for lean protein you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
Plant based protein is more easily assimilated and absorbed by the body than animal protein sources giving you the best “thermic effect of food” (TEF) possible. So choose your sources carefully and learn what works best for your body.
And don't forget the mind-body connection. There is plenty of research now that shows the influence of things like stress, sleep, and negative thoughts on your metabolic rate.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to metabolism and how so many different things can work to increase or decrease your metabolic rate, but I hope this gives you a better understanding.
Examples of Lean Protein:
Mixed raw nuts (21g/cup)
Kidney Beans (22g/cup)
Hemp Seeds (10g/3 tbsp)
Brown Rice (5g/cup)
Plant-Protein Powder (18g/scoop)
Eggs (organic free range, from grass and insect fed hens)
Sea food (preferably wild, sustainably caught in low mercury areas)
Chicken (organic, grass fed)
Turkey (organic, grass fed)