Chances are you have blamed your weight gain on your “slow” metabolism. Or you are giving up dieting and exercising after seeing no results because of a genetically-inherited slow metabolism. My mum has a “slow” metabolism, I have it too. But it isn’t that easy. So let’s find out what’s going on with metabolism and how to fix yours.
Your metabolism is the rate at which your body burns energy.
Your body uses calories for energy, like your car uses gas for energy.
When you eat, your body either uses the calories as fuel for activities, such as exercise, or stores them as heat—in the form of energy or fat.
When you eat too many calories, you store them as fat. Calories from sugar are more likely to be stored as fat because sugar tricks your body into thinking “here come a lot of calories.” But this topic is for another time.
HOW DO WE BURN THOSE CALORIES?
You want a FAST metabolism, meaning your body burns a LOT of calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat.
One simple way out of it is to eat less and do more physical activity. But it isn’t that easy again. There are three main ways you burn calories:
1.BASAL METABOLIC RATE. That is the number of calories your body burns when you’re not moving to stay alive, like energy used to keep your hearth beating, to breath, to digest…
This is measured as “basal metabolic rate,” or BMR: the energy needed to keep your body functioning while at rest, which is approximately 70% of your total calories consumption. This number differs based on age, gender, height, weight and genetics.
2. FOOD DIGESTION. It costs a bit of energy to digest food. Not much. It takes slightly more energy to break down proteins and fats than to break down carbs.
This is around 10% of your total daily calories intake, at best. Known as diet-induced thermogenesis, thermic effect of food, or TEF.
3. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, which burns approximately 20 to 25% of your calories intake. Your activity level and intensity affect this percentage. The more you move, the more you burn.
Walking and shopping don’t count for much. You will not lose weight mowing the lawn or taking one flight of stairs every day. An hour of intense aerobic exercise might burn up to 20% more calories.
Adaptive thermogenesis can also be a tiny component of your metabolism, but it only really applies if you’re exposed to cold climates when your body would use calories to keep warm.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY BOOSTS YOUR METABOLISM
While you don’t have much control over the speed of your basal metabolism, you can control how many calories you eat and how many calories you burn through physical activity.
Creating a caloric deficit is the first step to losing fat. However, your body has a set point and it wants to stay there. That’s why crash dieting doesn’t work long term.
Severe calories restriction might cause you to lose weight fast, but it slows down your metabolism and has other negative consequences. Your body tries to become more efficient as a life-preserving measure to keep you from starving. As a consequence it adapts everything from your thyroid, to your degree of fatigue, to how much you sweat because your body is trying to conserve energy.
Accounting for between 20 and 25 per cent of our metabolism, physical activity is the largest component of metabolism that we can control.
The more active you are, the more calories you burn.
Aerobic exercise is one of the most efficient way to burn calories and includes activities such as running, rowing, bicycling, swimming and bodyweight exercise depending on the intensity. As a general goal, try to include at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, then you need to increase the time you spend on physical activity even more. Even on rest days, try to be as active as possible, taking the stairs more often and parking farther away at the store. Active recovery such as walking or a gentle hike is also a great way to keep your metabolism active.
WEIGHTLIFTING AND YOUR METABOLISM
Another very efficient way to burn calories is to increase your muscle mass. That means lifting weights.
The more muscle you have, the higher your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) will be. The less muscle you have, the lower your BMR will be. Muscle burns calories to stay alive more than fat tissue does, at least 3 times more.
You burn calories right after exercise, when your muscle feeds itself. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn off.
While more muscle doesn’t mean you’ll torch your metabolic rate and become a human calorie-burning furnace, weight training is pretty important for fat loss.
The benefits of muscle building exercise to burn fat include:
- A contribution to total daily energy expenditure at rest
- More muscle does boost energy burn during exercise
- Reduced fatigue when performing cardio activities
- Better sports performance, fitness, and strength
- Improved insulin sensitivity which may help control calorie intake
So creating a caloric deficit is the first step to losing fat. But it’s not the only and most efficient step. Physical exercise, and strength training in particular, can be one of the most effective way for losing weight. The second step: Cut out bad sugar (check out how to beat your sugar cravings here).
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